The CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 is underway and the group stages are about to end, with eight teams to get through to the knockouts. The South American competition is full of talented squads and should be a chamber of entertainment but hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations with all the redundant matches taking the shine off the 105-year-old competition.
Copa America’s format has evolved over the years with just four teams in the first edition in 1916. The pool grew to 10 teams over the years, with two guest invitees in the latest editions. In the current edition though, the guest teams, Australia and Qatar opted out due to the season overlap caused by the coronavirus pandemic. There are two groups of five teams each that play one another to avoid finishing last, as only one team gets eliminated from each group.
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) June 27, 2021
There are a total of 20 games in the group stage that end up eliminating two teams from the competition. This has drawn a lot of criticism for making the group stage less interesting and redundant. Let’s discuss the flaws in the current format and how it can be made better —
WHAT ARE THE FLAWS
As CONMEBOL decided to change its cycle from odd to even years, they decided to host this edition of Copa America in 2020, along the lines of the UEFA Euros. Both the tournaments had to be postponed by a year and started in 2021. As both tournaments begun together, there were obvious comparisons drawn on the quality of the matches, as the Euro group stages were more intense and competitive.
With all due respect to copa America. You watch this Wales – Denmark game and you clearly see the difference in quality. And these are not even top 6 squads in the Euro
— Der Kaiser™️ (@DerKaiserBM) June 26, 2021
Copa America, on the other hand, couldn’t offer much considering the difference in quality and the less competitive structure. Despite many top European clubs employing South American players on high wages, the contest between the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suarez hasn’t fulfilled the desired fun factor.
The final group games of Group A, Argentina vs Bolivia and Uruguay vs Paraguay have become more or less dead rubbers considering the sole team to get eliminated is already decided. Bolivia has lost all three of their games so far and even an unforeseen victory against Argentina can’t see a change in their prospects.
— CBF Futebol (@CBF_Futebol) June 26, 2021
Even if the table remains close till the end, like in Group B, where only Brazil has confirmed their spot in the quarterfinals so far, playing 20 games to eliminate two teams is too dragged a process to be interesting. Copa’s direct competitor in terms of viewership, Euro 2020, took only 36 games to knock out eight teams of the total 24 in the group stage.
WHAT CAN BE THE IDEAL SOLUTION?
Here is one possible method that can be applied in order to reduce the unnecessary fixtures and make it more interesting for the worldwide viewers —
PLAYOFFS BEFORE GROUP STAGES
This process can add further excitement to the pre-knockout matches of the tournament by first removing the grouping on the basis of geographical zones and replace it with a more balanced system. CONMEBOL can first randomly draw the 10 teams against one another in five playoff matches. The winners of the five matches form Group A whereas the losers form Group B.
Then, the group games play out as usual and once the table is decided after each team plays four matches. The top two teams of Group A directly qualify for the semi-finals and their opponents come through a little difficult route.
— Facu Torres (@facutorresss) June 25, 2021
The other two semi-finalists will be decided with an eliminator between the winners and runner ups of Group B and the third and fourth-placed teams of Group A. The winner of their respective ties will face the already qualified teams in the semi-finals, and further qualify for the tournament final.
This will majorly impact the quality of the matches in a positive way with the importance they will hold to each team equally. The aforementioned method can bring the best out of players and coaches as they challenge the higher-ranked teams in must-win games.
🇵🇾🛩️ ¡Otro más en cuartos de final!
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) June 25, 2021
Despite all its flaws, Copa America is one of the oldest and most prestigious trophies in international football and the knockouts are expected to be more fascinating and entertaining than the earlier games.