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Last year I wrote an article discussing the possibility of a tournament that combined South America’s Copa America and North America’s Gold Cup, the Americas’ continental championships akin to the Euros or Asian Cup.
Despite South America’s obvious footballing powers, their continental championship has suffered due to a lack of visibility and scale. The championship features just twelve teams, two of which are invitees from other confederations.
The combination of the tournaments of CONMEBOL (South) and CONCACAF (North) would provide a high-quality football tournament alongside greater exposure and commercial opportunity.
Earlier this year, CONMEBOL announced that in 2016, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Copa America, the tournament would be played in the United States and would be up-scaled to feature sixteen teams: the ten South American nations as well as the USA, Mexico and four additional CONCACAF qualifiers.
Days later, CONCACAF stated that the announcement was premature and that talks were ongoing, but all indications suggest that it is only the hashing out of minor details that will push back an official announcement.
The 2016 Copa America Centenario, as this new event will be called, should be a major success. South American teams such as Brazil and Argentina, as well as various club sides, have recently toured the United States and sold out all their matches, playing friendlies in front of crowds of up to eighty thousand.
Competitive fixtures would no doubt only ramp up demand, particularly if the United States national team were to be involved.
The United States’ huge Latin and Hispanic population – over fifty-two million people – is a major demographic that would also have serious interest in a tournament such as this.
The 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup still attracted average crowds over forty-six thousand, in spite of the fact that Mexico, the US and Panama were the only nations involved in the tournament (which featured twelve teams in total) that currently sit inside the FIFA World Rankings’ top 50.
This is an obvious demonstration that in the US, even minor sporting events are very big.
If an event so inauspicious as the Gold Cup can draw over 1.1 million people to twenty five games in the US, then a combined, All-American cup will surely see figures to rival the US hosting of World Cup ’94.
The tournament will be at a time when both the NFL and NBA are in their off-seasons, and the European Championships will have just finished. Footballing interest in the US will be at a peak.
Already there are arguments that a hybrid tournament is simply a bastardisation of what is already an historic tournament.
The Copa is the world’s oldest continuous continental championship.
However the Copa, as traditional and historic as it may be, lacks both credibility and the ability for progress as long as it remains in its current form. Twelve team tournaments are always going to lack the scale of their sixteen-team counterparts.
This format leads to strange scenarios like in the 2011 Copa, where Paraguay made the final despite not winning a single game (they drew all their group matches and qualified as one of the two best third-placed teams).
The necessity for invitees to the Copa is another issue. Often these invitees don’t take the tournament at all seriously, sending junior teams or C-Squads.
Conversely, there is also the potential for major embarrassment if an invitee, a team not even from the tournament’s confederation, wins the event.
A hybrid cup certainly is a case of tampering with tradition, but it makes for a much greater, more interesting and unique tournament.
2016 is likely to be a major success. If CONCACAF and CONMEBOL reach an agreement to make the hybrid cup permanent – replacing the Copa and Gold Cup – we could have a cup with the potential to easily exceed the Euros commercially, and capable of providing a comparable footballing spectacle.