The stage is now officially set for the 2024 Copa America! Following Thursday's draw for the group stage, next summer's 16 participants (two of which have yet to be determined) can begin their preparation for the highly-anticipated CONMEBOL tournament that will be hosted in the United States.
Seeking back-to-back Copa America trophies, World Cup-winners Argentina were given a fairly straightforward path through the group stage, but in a possible knockout scenario, Lionel Messi and Co. could run into obstacles against Mexico or Ecuador.
As for 2021 finalists Brazil, they'll face the troublesome task of Colombia's roster (who defeated them last month) and looking ahead, there's potential knockout round battles against dark horses like Uruguay or the U.S. that will be dangerous underdogs. Let's not overlook the usual big fish in the Concacaf-sized pond either. With plenty of support behind them in the stands, both the U.S. and Mexico will have enticing opportunities to shine in 2024.
There's plenty to dive into after Thursday's draw, and with a majority of teams now in place for the tournament, ESPN's Tim Vickery and Cesar Hernandez have provided their immediate analysis of the group stage draw for the Copa America.
Note: The Concacaf region was given six invites for the tournament. The U.S., Mexico, Jamaica and Panama all secured their spots as semifinalists of the 2023-24 Nations League. The two remaining Concacaf invitations will be given to the winners of single-leg playoff matches (Canada vs. Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica vs. Honduras) on March 23.
Argentina, Peru, Chile, Playoff Winner of Canada vs. Trinidad and Tobago
The draw could hardly have been kinder to the current World and Copa champions Argentina. Peru -- just one goal in six World Cup qualifiers -- look by far the weakest of the teams in pot two, and Chile have proved utterly unable to replace the generation that won the previous enlarged version of the Copa in 2016. If Canada make it through it will be interesting to see how they have progressed since showing some interesting moments in the Qatar World Cup.
True, Argentina learned the hard way against Saudi Arabia last year that nothing can be taken for granted in tournament football, but this group looks set up for them.
MUST-SEE MATCH: Peru vs. Chile
One of the big plusses of an enlarged Copa is that the group phase is much more competitive. Normally eight qualify from 12, but eight from sixteen adds significant edge, which should be clearly on show in the opening round when Peru play Chile in the opening round.
There is plenty of hostility between these two neighbours. There is rarely anything pacific about the Pacific derby, and with these teams -- on paper at least -- directly competing to qualify together with Argentina, this should be tasty.
X FACTOR: End of an Argentine era?
For some, this Copa is a stepping stone on the way towards the 2026 World Cup. The current vibe coming out of Argentina is that the tournament might well mark the end of a glorious era. Ángel Di María has already announced that this will be his international farewell. That could also apply to Lionel Messi, and coach Lionel Scaloni has hinted about stepping down. Catch them while you can!
PREDICTED FINISH: Argentina, Chile, Canada, Peru -- Vickery
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss Lionel Scaloni's comments that he might resign as Argentina coach after their win at Brazil.
Mexico will breathe a sigh of relief after the draw. Although Ecuador and Venezuela both have a decent chance of upsetting the Concacaf Gold Cup champions, the reality is that they won't be nearly as daunting of a challenge for Mexico if Uruguay or Colombia were instead drawn in Ecuador's place, or if the ghosts of 2016 returned with Chile in their group instead of Venezuela.
Assuming El Tri don't dramatically implode, which can definitely happen for the team that was a massive letdown in Qatar 2022, that then probably leaves a knockout round spot between Ecuador and Venezuela. Jamaica, despite impressing in their latest win over Canada, may not have enough for a top two place.
MUST-SEE MATCH: Ecuador vs. Venezuela
A make-or-break moment for the two CONMEBOL sides that will share the pitch in their group-opener. There's little between the two countries that drew 0-0 back in October, and with the knowledge that Venezuela have the benefit of closing out the group stage against Jamaica, Ecuador should seek immediate points from the get-go.
X FACTOR: El Tri's home crowd
Sure, the tournament will be hosted north of the border, but make no mistake, the biggest crowds at the Copa America will be supporting the most popular soccer team in the United States: Mexico. Often filling NFL-sized venues through friendlies, El Tri will regularly have their 12th man game in and game out.
PREDICTED FINISH: Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Jamaica -- Hernandez
This won't be a walk in the park for the hosts. Despite the U.S. men's national team being able to make the argument that they're the strongest team in Concacaf, Uruguay can also make the claim of being the most exciting side in CONMEBOL at the moment.
But what about Panama? They've only lost once in their last 13 games and punched above their weight with a spot in the Gold Cup final. As for Bolívia, a questionable run through World Cup qualifying doesn't bode well for the Copa America.
MUST-SEE MATCH: Uruguay vs. Panama
If Panama want to showcase that they're legitimate knockout round contenders, they'll have a fantastic chance to do so in their group opener against Uruguay. That said, the same could be said for Marcelo Bielsa and his men that seem to be gaining an immense amount of confidence.
X FACTOR: The USMNT's golden generation
Fans have been waiting for the country's rising stars to finally lift the USMNT and make an impact at an elite international tournament. There's no doubt that there's an immense amount of up-and-coming talent, but can it succeed at a high level in the Copa America?
PREDICTED FINISH: Uruguay, United States, Panama, Bolivia -- Hernandez
Kasey Keller says he would he liked to have seen more from both Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi after the USMNT progressed to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals.
Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Playoff Winner of Honduras vs. Costa Rica
Together with Mexico's group this might be the strongest quartet in the competition. For all their current problems, Brazil are still Brazil. Colombia are unbeaten under coach Nestor Lorenzo and going well. Paraguay will hope they can finally get the Premier League duo of Miguel Almirón and Julio Enciso firing together to add to their defensive resilience, and either of the Central American teams can cause problems. Costa Rica have acquired considerable experience over the years, and Honduras even eliminated Brazil in 2001.
MUST-SEE MATCH: Brazil vs. Colombia
If either side has dropped points in the first two games, then this final round group game could be very interesting indeed, with the prospect of one of the teams making an early exit. Last month, Colombia deservedly won their first ever World Cup qualifier against Brazil, and with the five times world champions in a state of some turmoil, Colombia fans will hope to roar them on to another win.
X FACTOR: Brazil's coaching situation
At the moment everything is up in the air. This tournament, in theory, is set to mark the start of the reign of Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti in charge of the Brazil team. That in itself would be fascinating. But so far there is no official confirmation that he is coming -- and the idea has run into a complication.
The Ancelotti option is the personal project of Ednaldo Rodrigues, the president of Brazil 's FA. But he is currently facing a courtroom coup to force him out. It is all a question mark, and after three consecutive defeats in World Cup qualification, Brazil need to get their act together.
PREDICTED FINISH: Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Costa Rica -- Vickery