Copa América predictions: can anybody stop Messi and Argentina?

<span>Messi, Pulisic, Vinicius Junior.</span><span>Composite: Guardian Picture Desk</span>
Messi, Pulisic, Vinicius Junior.Composite: Guardian Picture Desk

The winner will be …

Argentina. Lionel Messi may no longer be the best player in the world, but he’s still among the best players in this tournament. Pair his rote brilliance with a team who have proven their ability to win tournaments and you have a successful title defense on your hands. Jon Arnold

Argentina. There’s no doubt the winner will come from Conmebol, but picking between the best South American nations feels impossible. Still, Argentina’s squad is littered with elite players and I’m 95% sure Lionel Messi is still the best player at the tournament. You could do a lot worse as far as deciding factors go. Joseph Lowery

Argentina. Let’s face it – the team is stacked, experienced and thrive under pressure. This could also be Messi’s last tournament as the captain of his national team, which is a nice bit of extra motivation. Julia Ranney

Uruguay. Marcelo Bielsa has built a compact and competitive team who have a clear idea of what they want to do on the pitch. No individual player rises above the others, so they each have an equal presence on the field that knits together seamlessly. No other country, except Argentina, have been South American champions as many times as Uruguay; with the two countries holding 15 titles each. Raúl Vilchis

The US will get to …

The quarter-finals. The draw against Brazil in their final tune-up at least gives some evidence the Colombia blowout was a hiccup. But beating either of those teams, the most likely quarter-final opponents, in a knockout match may be a bridge too far for a US team still figuring things out. JA

The quarter-finals. Had the US been placed on the easy Group A/B side of the bracket instead of the brutal Group C/D side, things might be different. The USMNT will emerge from their group. But with Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay in their way? A semi-final run is a touch too far. JL

This summer’s Copa is a test run, of sorts, in the lead-up to the next World Cup, and if successful – on and off the pitch – the tournament can fuel the sport’s growth and popularity before the 2026 showpiece. Oh, and the US will reach the quarter-finals. JR

The quarter-finals. The US will rise to be among the eight best teams in the Americas. They face a complicated group stage. Uruguay are the hardest team on the schedule, but they will also face a tough rival in Panama, who have become one of the most competitive teams in Concacaf. Despite the challenges, the US will make it to the second round. RV

The US’s most important player is …

Christian Pulisic. It would be easy to get cute here, but this is Pulisic’s team. The creativity in attack, the leadership in heated moments and shouldering the scoring load when things aren’t going right all comes down to Pulisic. For so long he’s been ‘the next’ great US player, but at 25 years old, he’s arrived. JA

Related: Fans treat USMNT like a club side – and it could cost Berhalter his job

Gio Reyna. No one in the USMNT’s squad orchestrates attacks quite like Reyna. His vision and technique are excellent and he should be eager for a big tournament after his 2022 World Cup was littered with controversy. If Reyna has an off day or picks up an injury, the US’s attack will go up in smoke. JL

Christian Pulisic. It seems like stating the obvious at this point, but Pulisic is coming off the best club season of his career with Milan – totting up 12 goals and eight assists in Serie A last season. Since his debut in March 2016, he leads the USMNT in games, minutes, goals and assists. His experience, intensity and nose for goal will be necessary to help the US out of Group C. JR

Yes, it’s Christian Pulisic. The entire mindset of the US revolves around the Milan player. His inventiveness generating scoring opportunities makes him a natural leader of the team, while he is invaluable as a scorer himself. RV

Gregg Berhalter is …

Coaching for his jobor at least he should be. This is the last chance the US has to truly see how it measures up against some big boys of the international game before the 2026 World Cup on home soil. It’s possible he rises to the occasion. It’s also possible the US Soccer directors get evidence to the contrary. JA

Far from his initial vision of getting the US to “use the ball to disorganize the opponent”. The USMNT’s attacking play is clunky more often than not. Still, Berhalter will do well to use a defense-first approach against the big guns from South America, letting the opponent create space for the US to exploit. JL

On thin ice. After getting thrashed by Colombia earlier this month, the debate around Berhalter continuing as coach has cranked up. His side have still failed to register a win against a top-25 team in Fifa’s rankings outside Concacaf. If he exits this tournament without a standout win, he will be in trouble. JR

Destined to continue coaching the US. While he has a lot of room for improvement, which was on full display in the humiliation at the hands of Colombia, he has shown the ability in the past to pull the team back together. It would take another disastrous result for him to come under serious pressure. RV

Lesser known player to watch …

Manfred Ugalde, Costa Rica. After disagreements with the last manager kept Ugalde away from Los Ticos, new manager Gustavo Alfaro quickly has enjoyed the benefits of actually calling up the face of Costa Rica’s next generation. After a winter move to Spartak Moscow, the forward turned up in rhythm for Costa Rica’s June’s World Cup qualification matches and will be a factor when they open Group D against Brazil. JA

Ismaël Koné, Canada. The 21-year-old can help lead Canada into the knockouts. The Watford midfielder is already a crucial cog for Jesse Marsch and played a huge role for Canada in their 0-0 draw with France earlier this month. You won’t find many players with Koné’s comfort in tight spots and penchant for mazy runs on the ball. JL

While Canadian fans rightfully point to Alphonso Davies as their crown jewel, Joseph is right on Koné. The midfielder was a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster season for Watford, providing stability in the midfield and ranking in the 91st percentile for progressive carries per 90 minutes. Against France, Koné dazzled, dancing around N’Golo Kanté and Eduardo Camavinga. Can he do the same against Argentina in Canada’s opener? JR

Kendry Páez, Ecuador. This 17-year-old lefty is Ecuador’s No 10 and he plays with great ease in the midfield. Because of the brazenness and daring with which he moves, he appears to have years of experience even though he is still a teenager. He is a beautiful passer and can strike it as well as anyone – a true phenomenon. RV

Surprise team of the tournament …

Are Ecuador even a surprise any more? I include them because, between the wunderkinds and the hardened vets, there seems to be no doubt this Copa América will go better than the last one, when La Tri registered no wins in the group stage, still managed to advance and were flattened by Argentina in the quarter-finals. JA

Ecuador have a semi-final run in them, don’t they? While they’re fifth in the Conmebol pecking order, Ecuador are a lofty 14th in the latest batch of Elo Ratings, a system that takes a more scientific approach than Fifa’s rankings. On the easy side of the bracket, Ecuador can go deep. JL

Ecuador. With recent wins over Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay, La Tri are already well placed for a 2026 World Cup spot. Despite not making it to the knockouts in Qatar in 2022, they held their own, beating the hosts and drawing against the Dutch. Felix Sanchez’s squad is relatively young, but they have matured since Qatar. The likes of Ángelo Preciado, Enner Valencia, Piero Hincapié and Moisés Caicedo have honed their skills, gained experience and are ready to prove Ecuador’s worth on a larger scale. JR

Everyone is on Ecuador, so I’ll go elsewhere. While the country’s football tradition and the quality of its players are well-known, Colombia did not qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Since then, the team has reemerged with great strength and is ready for redemption. The experience of James Rodríguez in the middle is complemented by the likes Luis Díaz and Jhon Arias, who provide much of Colombia’s width and creativity. RV

Big team at risk of going out early …

Brazil. At least early by their standards. November’s defeats to Colombia and, stunningly, at home to Argentina were clear indications that though Brazil still have plenty of talent they are looking for leadership and unable to make things flow like a classic Brazil side. With respect to Dorival Júnior, he’s not the man they thought would be leading them this summer, and getting his team to reach a third consecutive final may be beyond him. JA

I’ve got all three members of Concacaf’s big three losing in the quarter-finals, but it wouldn’t shock me if Mexico find themselves eliminated in the group stage. Sure, Group B looks straightforward with Ecuador, Venezuela, and Jamaica. But Mexico are in the midst of a generational transition that’s been far from smooth. JL

For a team that’s on a whopping 22-match unbeaten streak, Colombia should enter the tournament with eyes on winning it all. On paper, Néstor Lorenzo’s side could reach the semis. Rodríguez and Díaz are in fine form for club and country, but looking at the draw, it’s likely Colombia could face Uruguay in the quarter-final. Bad luck, if you ask me. JR

Mexico often fill most stadiums when they play in the US, and their fans will once again have big expectations. But the team lack standout talent and leadership, which led to failure at the 2022 World Cup. Unless other teams falter, the ongoing crisis will continue this summer. RV

The tournament MVP will be …

Lionel Messi. Oh, wow. What a hipster pick. Put the off-field noise aside and watch what Messi is doing with Inter Miami this season and you see a player still capable of making magic. JA

Related: From Endrick to Adams: 10 players ready to shine at Copa América

If Argentina win the whole thing and Messi lifts the trophy in Miami, it’s hard to look past him being rewarded as Copa América’s MVP. Julian Álvarez will have a word or two to say about it, but Messi winning it all in his home stadium will be too much to pass up. JL

With Gabriel Jesus, Thiago Silva and Richarlison being dropped from Dorival Júnior’s squad, and Neymar out with injury, it’s over to Vinicius Júnior to carry Brazil. While the Real Madrid star is no stranger to trophy hunts, he has yet to snag a first Copa América win. Adding an international trophy to his shelf will bolster his Ballon d’Or bid. JR

Julián Álvarez is the Argentinian offensive player who will shine this summer. Álvarez will be Argentina’s goal threat, more so than Lautaro Martínez. And considering that Angel Di María and Messi are reaching the twilight of their careers, they will need Álvarez to push them over the line. RV


Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Canada, Uruguay, US, Brazil, Colombia. JA

Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Canada, Uruguay, US, Brazil, Colombia. JL

Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, US, Brazil, Colombia. JR

Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay, US, Brazil, Colombia. RV


Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil. JA

Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil. JL

Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Brazil. JR

Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Uruguay. RV


Argentina v Uruguay. JA

Argentina v Brazil. JL

Argentina v Uruguay. JR

Argentina v Uruguay. RV