Messi, Suarez driving star quality at Copa

Neymar the only major absentee as US assess results in relation to bid for 2026 World Cup

SANTA CLARA (California) • A star-studded celebration of the world's oldest international football tournament will get under way in California this morning (Singapore time), when the United States take on Colombia in the opener of the Copa America Centenario.

From across the Americas, 16 teams have gathered in the United States for a one-off edition of the football tournament, which is being staged to mark its 100th anniversary.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez will all star at the tournament which concludes on June 26. The event is taking place despite a troubled build-up dogged by corruption allegations that threatened to derail it.

Ten teams from South America are joined by six teams from the North America, Central America and Caribbean region (Concacaf), in what is arguably the biggest tournament to be staged on US soil since the 1994 World Cup.

The tournament could potentially be a sneak preview of the 2026 World Cup, which US officials have signalled they intend to mount a bid for as football in the US grows in popularity.

The gleaming Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara - home of the San Francisco 49ers and the venue for this year's Super Bowl - is expected to be close to its 68,500 capacity for the Group A opener between the US and Colombia.

Whether spectator demand for other matches will be as high is doubtful; few are expecting matches involving the tournament minnows to be sold out.

In comments to Sports Illustrated, United States Soccer Federation chief Sunil Gulati said he expected the tournament to meet its targets.

"It's a big event, and I think our goals will be met by the time the event is over in terms of attendance and interest," he said. "There's a lot of star power, and we open with a great game with the US and Colombia."

Most teams have chosen full-strength squads, although injuries and the proximity of the Olympics have deprived Brazil of several first-choice players, including Barcelona superstar Neymar.

"Everyone has brought the best players who are available to them and they're taking it seriously. That's a plus," said Gulati.

That the tournament is taking place at all is something of a logistical triumph.

Although first announced in 2014, the fate of the event hung in the balance for much of last year after the arrest and indictment of several of the officials from South America and Concacaf responsible for cementing the centennial tournament.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

COPA AMERICA
Opening ceremony: Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch213, 9am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'Messi, Suarez driving star quality at Copa'. Print Edition | Subscribe