Host nation have never won the tournament
10 June ~ Tomorrow marks the start of the 44th Copa América tournament in what is the 99th year of football's oldest continental competition. It had initially been planned that Brazil would host the tournament, only for that idea to be scrapped after the country won the rights to host both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Instead the tournament went to Chile and is being seen there as a great opportunity to lift the trophy for the first time.
Despite having been involved in the Copa América since its very first edition in 1916, Chile have never won the tournament, placing them behind countries considered smaller or later developers of the game such as Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, all of whom have at least one title to their name. The opportunity to host therefore acts as both opportunity and a burden for the home nation. While the right to host brings large support and familiarity with the surroundings, the country has held the Copa six times previously, reaching the final in just one of those tournaments.
Their coach Jorge Sampaoli appears very sensitive to the elevated expectations and scrutiny that being hosts can bring and attempted to take his players to Europe for the tournament preparations. That proved impractical so instead they have used two training bases in Chile, where they have infuriated local residents by placing the complexes under heavy security, including closing any roads in the vicinity. One local TV station tried to overcome these measures by flying a drone over a training session, only for Sampaoli to immediately take his players off the field and banish any other members of the press from the facility.
Outside of the football, hosting the tournament has been well received by the public. In a recent poll carried out by Fundación Imagen de Chile (an organisation set up to promote Chile internationally), 79 per cent of respondents believed that the tournament would benefit the development of Chile, while 91 per cent believed that hosting the tournament would boost the country's image abroad. While there has been some scrutiny about the use of public money for redeveloping stadiums, these works have been realistic in scale, with only three of the eight venues having capacities over 23,000, leaving the country with a number of modern venues that remain sensibly sized for domestic football.
After spending some time in the wilderness during the 1990s and 2000s, the Copa América has now found its home within the football calendar. After the tournament finishes, South America starts its marathon three year qualification process for Russia 2018. The Copa América therefore acts as a key preparation, with seven of the ten South American sides having new coaches since the last World Cup cycle. The exception to this pattern are Chile, whose coach Sampaoli has a contract that runs until the end of the Copa América. His future is therefore likely to hinge on the performance of the hosts over the coming few weeks. Marcus Haydon