La Copa América debe ser para toda América. Imagen: EFE/ANTONIO LACERDA

The Copa América Belongs to the Entire Americas

Because the South Americans urgently need to modernize and the North Americans urgently need good competition, it is time to unite

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On July 10, the Copa America was dressed in justice and history with the triumph of Argentina, which represented the first championship at the senior national team level of Lionel Messi, the best player in history, who for 20 years has made real magic with the Barcelona club but had not been able to be crowned with the shirt of his country.

The night of the final was a night of grit, passion, and strength that echoed far beyond the Maracana stadium and reached all corners of the world. However, from the morning of July 11, once the hangover of the celebration is over, the federations that make up CONMEBOL must begin a profound process of self-diagnosis and understand that, if Copa America wants to be competitive, it must belong to the entire continent.

Copa América vs. the Euros, a lost fight

The pretext for reorganizing Copa America’s calendar was to synchronize it with the European Championship and compete directly with the UEFA national team tournament. However, it is becoming increasingly clear, to anyone with the courage to analyze it, that (in the medium term and on its own) CONMEBOL will be unable to compete with Europe.

The very chaos with the changes of venue for this Copa America is an example of this phenomenon. Originally, the Cup was supposed to be hosted by Colombia, then a shared venue with Argentina was added as a wedge, from which both nations eventually escaped, to leave the organization in the hands of Brazil, which had already hosted the previous Copa America, and which looks set to become the permanent host of the tournament.

Yes, that’s right, because right now the only South American country with the necessary logistic and stadium infrastructure to organize a Cup “comparable” to the European ones is Brazil, due to the size of its economy and the structure it has left after the 2014 World Cup.

However, according to CONMEBOL’s rotation, the 2024 Copa America would be held in Ecuador. That same year, the European Championship will be in Germany; the comparison of the structure and stadiums of both tournaments will inevitably be grotesque for the fans, pathetic for CONMEBOL and embarrassing for UEFA. Yes, there was a time when South American sports infrastructure was at the level of the rest of the world, where Montevideo’s Centenario or River’s Monumental stadium stood as colossal stadiums worthy of world championships. But those times were gone decades ago.

What happened? South American soccer fell into a comfort zone, resigned to being a mere breeding ground for talent for the European and American leagues. Its stadiums and structures remained in the 80’s of the 20th century, far from being viable venues for world competitions.

The uncomfortable truth is that both the Andean countries and Uruguay/Argentina/Paraguay’s bid for the 2030 World Cup seem doomed not only to defeat but to ridicule. South America (with the exception of Brazil) does not have the capacity to organize a World Cup and at the rate, things are going, fewer and fewer CONMEBOL countries will be able to organize even a Copa America.

How to solve it? The solution is to integrate the entire continent in Copa America… And in the same confederation, similar to how it works in the rest of the continents.

Not all is well in the North either

CONCACAF, which unites the soccer federations of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, is both an organizational and sporting aberration. On the same day that the Copa America concluded with an exciting (if crude) Argentina-Brazil match, the “Gold Cup” began with a profoundly mediocre Mexico-Trinidad and Tobago match, marked by the serious injury of the Mexican Irving Lozano in an accidental -but serious- collision with the Trinidadian goalkeeper.

This is a collision that, by the way, was not even noticed by the referee and his linesmen, whose obvious lack of physical and tactical preparation reached absurd levels. This is not an isolated incident, but a systematic symptom.

The uncomfortable truth is that remaining in CONCACAF is deeply toxic for the “strong” countries of that confederation, including Mexico, the United States, and Costa Rica, tied to compete with deeply incompetent rivals and deprived of the intensity of competition and the enormous benefits that playing with CONMEBOL teams would bring them.

Yes, there was a time when Mexico was allowed to attend the Copa America, but eventually, the CONCACAF mafia extorted the Mexican Federation, forcing it to send “B” teams to the South American competition. Mexico lost level, but the directors were able to continue squeezing the pockets of Mexican migrants who buy tickets for the Gold Cup, which is always held in American cities.

At the club level, something similar is happening. The leagues of Mexico and the United States are 2 of the 3 most solid and powerful in the continent (in the first place is, of course, the Brazilian league) but they are isolated and forced to compete in “Concachampions” with semi-professional amateur Caribbean teams.

Ok, so CONCACAF is bad for the big teams, but at least it benefits the Caribbean and Central American teams, right?

The truth is that neither, because their level is still abysmally low. Under a good negotiation, even they would lose almost nothing if CONCACAF disappears and they join a new continental confederation. Just as now, they would start their qualification to the World Cup in preliminary rounds, playing mainly among themselves and placing one or two of their best teams to reach the final phase prior to the World Cup.

Mexico needs the Copa America. So do the United States and Costa Rica. (Image: EFE)

What they would gain from an all-America cup and a continental confederation

South American teams would gain a boost to get out of the comfort zone that has led them to neglect their infrastructure. Having the stadiums and teams of Mexico and the United States as a constant reference would motivate South American fans to be more demanding of their managers so that they place greater emphasis on maintaining, updating and developing their stadiums and internal structure.

In the other half of the continent, competing on a daily basis with South American leagues and teams would force countries such as Mexico, America and Costa Rica to acquire a higher level of competition; it would encourage mutual learning between leagues and allow for greater exchange and projection of players.

In economic terms, continental integration would make it possible to have a much more attractive Copa América that could realistically compete with the European Championship. In addition, it would strengthen the finances and the level of the Copa Libertadores; it would basically create a bigger pie to share among all.

The future will be continental or it will fail

The future of soccer is being built now, and much of that future depends on the reorganization of structures, such as confederations, that may have been justifiable in the middle of the last century, but are unsustainable today.

In the north, the United States and Mexico are moving towards the integration of their respective leagues as of 2026, to form one of the largest leagues in the world, even larger than the Brazilian league. Mexico and the United States are making steady progress, but they need daily high-level competition to consolidate their processes.

In the south, the talent and passion of their players are undeniable, but the backwardness of their infrastructure and leagues is equally evident, and in the medium term they run the risk of becoming mere curiosities for international soccer.

On both sides of the continent, the Copa America needs to belong to all of America, Concacaf needs to disappear, a great continental confederation needs to be formed, competition needs to be intensified and, as always, may the best team win.

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