Copa America 2024 preview: The Athletic’s complete guide to the tournament

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We will get to Lionel Messi in a minute.

Plenty has changed in North American soccer since the Copa America last came stateside in 2016.

The United States has fallen and risen, rebounding after missing the 2018 World Cup to boast a pool teeming with young and established players in Europe’s top five leagues. Mexico is experiencing an identity crisis and Canada has overtaken Costa Rica as the region’s third power, led by top players like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David.

The three nations needn’t fret over World Cup qualification thanks to being co-hosts in 2026, so the 2024 Copa America represents their only meaningful competition between now and then.

While this year’s tournament takes place in CONCACAF territory, its narratives and thrills will be dictated by CONMEBOL. Few tournaments can match the passion stirred by a Copa America.

Do you like stars? Of course you do. There are world-class players aplenty to be found in the 16-team field.

By summer’s end, you’ll be singing the praises of fresh faces such as Endrick, Dario Osorio and Kendry Paez. You’ll eagerly cue up “best of” YouTube compilations of Vinicius Junior’s dribbling prowess for Brazil, of Pedro Gallese’s acrobatics in goal for Peru, of Darwin Nunez’s unpredictable nature inside the penalty box for Uruguay.

GO DEEPER This summer on The Athletic: Tournaments, transfers and tours

Right, and there’s also Messi.

You’ve read plenty about his exploits in heron pink for Inter Miami over the past 12 months, but even his greatest skeptics have to admit: there’s something special about him when he pulls on the white and sky blue of Argentina.

This will be his first major tournament since Argentina won the 2022 World Cup and we could see the soon-to-be 37-year-old in a rare, pressure-free headspace. It may also be our last chance to catch him on a big international stage, as it’s unclear whether he’ll retire before 2026.

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Drink it in, one and all. There’s something on this tournament menu for every appetite.

You can subscribe to The Athletic using our discount code for the tournament here. We’ll make sure you have plenty to discuss within your group chats.

How to follow the Copa America on The Athletic…

The storylines to follow

First up, who’s competing? Well… we’ve got individual nation guides on the 16 teams below, but here are a few things to look out for…

Argentina has finally figured it all out, winning the 2021 Copa America and 2022 World Cup. This isn’t a one-man band, though; Lautaro Martinez is among the world’s best strikers and their goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, revels in big moments.

has finally figured it all out, winning the 2021 Copa America and 2022 World Cup. This isn’t a one-man band, though; Lautaro Martinez is among the world’s best strikers and their goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, revels in big moments. Since reappointing Gregg Berhalter, the United States has looked like a team stuck in two minds. Its players often play dynamic roles for their clubs, but they resemble a more reserved collective under his guidance. A run to the semifinal would go a long way to restoring faith.

has looked like a team stuck in two minds. Its players often play dynamic roles for their clubs, but they resemble a more reserved collective under his guidance. A run to the semifinal would go a long way to restoring faith. There was a 1-1 draw against the USMNT in Brazil ‘s final tune-up friendly. The Selecao flamed out in the group stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario, but were champions in 2019 and runners-up in 2021. How far will they go this time?

‘s final tune-up friendly. The Selecao flamed out in the group stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario, but were champions in 2019 and runners-up in 2021. How far will they go this time? Canada surprised many by appointing Jesse Marsch as head coach in May. Players have grown disillusioned by a pennywise federation, but the talent that helped them top 2022 World Cup qualifying is ready to rebound.

surprised many by appointing Jesse Marsch as head coach in May. Players have grown disillusioned by a pennywise federation, but the talent that helped them top 2022 World Cup qualifying is ready to rebound. Mexico left some experienced names off its roster — yes, Guillermo Ochoa really won’t be here. They are prioritising giving younger players big-game experience ahead of the World Cup.

left some experienced names off its roster — yes, Guillermo Ochoa really won’t be here. They are prioritising giving younger players big-game experience ahead of the World Cup. When Marcelo Bielsa last coached internationally, he catalyzed the start of a strong decade for Chile. Uruguay will hope he can work similar magic, with Nunez the preferred strike partner for ageless Luis Suarez.

Detailed team guides:

Group A: Argentina, Peru, Chile, Canada

Group B: Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Jamaica

Group C: USMNT, Uruguay, Panama, Bolivia

Group D: Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Costa Rica

(Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

If your focus is more individually driven, there is The Radar: Copa America, which profiles 50 players to watch at the tournament, from established stars to ones on the rise.

GO DEEPER The Radar – The Athletic’s Copa America 2024 scouting guide

And if you want a breakdown of all the squads at the competition, you can find that here.

Tactical breakdowns

The brilliant Thom Harris has gone into the weeds on all 16 teams to update you on how they’ve played in recent months.

There’s also our ultimate data guide to the squads, which will make you look even more clever to your friends. Did you know Jonathan David has the best goals-per-cap rate of any player at the tournament whose name isn’t Lionel Messi? No, me neither.

GO DEEPER Copa America 2024 data guide: Three ex-Leeds managers, two 17-year-olds and one Argentinian outlier

What about the hosts?

The United States were host nation and a dark horse in 2016, reaching the semifinal before falling to Messi and Argentina. That proved to be an aberration, as they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but they are back at the top of the CONCACAF pecking order and trying to size up if a deep run is possible in two years’ time.

It still is a bit odd when a guest nation joins a continental tournament, whether it’s Qatar in the CONCACAF Gold Cup or, well, the United States hosting a second South American jamboree in under a decade. Elias Burke charted the past performances of these guest entries. Perhaps this tournament will see its first champion outside the confines of CONMEBOL…

Antonee Robinson had a career-best season for Fulham, proving to be among the Premier League’s best left-backs. His focus now shifts to the international arena; as he tells Peter Rutzler, it’s time for the USMNT to take the next step toward being a global contender.

(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Johnny Cardoso is among the squad’s fastest risers in recent years, going from a mysterious prospect in Brazil to a mainstay of Real Betis’ midfield. He gave a rare interview to Jack Lang, giving insight into what motivates him and what he aspires to be.

The USMNT exited the 2022 World Cup in the round of 16, but no player was harder done by than Gio Reyna. Eighteen months have passed since the drama around his lack of playing time and the signs a relationship with Berhalter needed mending. Last week, Reyna spoke with USMNT expert Paul Tenorio about getting his career back on track.

And here’s my comprehensive scouting guide to each member of the USMNT squad, updating you on their recent form and highlighting strengths and weaknesses.

Predictions, Messi vs Ronaldo and the new generation

Elsewhere, our writers have given their predictions for the tournament: who will win it? Which players will shine brightest? And which dark horses could bust the bracket open?

Messi’s greatest rival Cristiano Ronaldo is playing across the Atlantic at Euro 2024 and their two-man dynasty has been explored here in a detailed look at their international goal records.

The sport cannot live off those two forever and a rising generation of talent has been desperate to get more time in the spotlight. This tournament boasts quite a few of them…

(Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

This Copa America provides a platform for some elder statesmen to shine, too.

But wait, there’s more!

How to watch

For U.S. viewers, you can watch every English-language broadcast on FOX’s networks. The majority of group-stage clashes will be shown live on FS1, with select games bumped to FOX and a handful shifting to FS2. The tournament can be streamed on Fubo TV, as well. Spanish-language broadcasts will be shown on Univision and TUDN.

In Canada, you can find Copa America matches on TSN and TSN+ while UK viewers can find broadcasts on Premier Sports, as well as live streams on the Premier Sports Player.

How does qualification for the knockout stage work?

This is as straightforward as brackets get: four groups of four teams, with the top two finishers advancing to the quarterfinal. It’s a fixed bracket from there:

Winner of Group A vs. Group B’s second-place side

Winner of Group B vs. Group A’s second-place side

Winner of Group C vs. Group D’s second-place side

Winner of Group D vs. Group C’s second-place side

In the group stage, the tiebreaking protocol for any two teams on level footing — well, save for irrelevant ties between third and fourth — is as follows:

Cumulative goal difference across all three matches Goals scored Head-to-head records, with additional nested tiebreakers in the event of a three-team tie: Number of points accrued in matches between relevant sides Greater goal difference between relevant sides Most goals scored between relevant sides Fewest red cards Fewest yellow cards A random draw conducted by CONMEBOL

Group stage games will conclude after 90 minutes, even if they’re played to a draw. A tie game at full time in the knockout rounds will advance to two 15-minute halves of extra time and advance to a penalty shootout if the game is still deadlocked after two hours of action.

On top of all this, we will be covering all the off-pitch news as it happens, bringing you details from the team camps, media conferences, and any other breaking news.

Away from the Copa America, we will continue to cover the summer transfer window, with our weekly Transfer DealSheet coming out every Tuesday as well as The Athletic 500 Transfer Ratings, which you can read about here.

GO DEEPER The Athletic 500: Our new transfer ratings explained

Go touch grass while you can — a second concurrent tournament is about to kick off.

(Top photo: Mark Thorstenson/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

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