It seems like Mexico has gotten some very fortuitous breaks since Oct. 15, 2013. That was the final night of hexagonal qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. The Mexicans changed coaches (as the demanding federation is wont to do) several times but could never get much continuity. They were in the process of losing 2-1 at Costa Rica and bowing out with just two wins in 10 games. Two United States goals scored in Panama after the 90th minute ultimately bailed out Mexico, which thrashed New Zealand in the playoff in November to advance to Brazil.
Once there, Mexico advanced out of a fairly easy group before almost beating Holland in the round of 16. From there, the Mexicans decided to use their next dosage of luck at the 2015 Gold Cup. They finished second in their group to Trinidad & Tobago to get to the quarterfinals. It took a 124th minute goal on a questionable penalty for them to sneak by Costa Rica, 1-0. Then it took yet another controversial penalty after more than nine minutes of stoppage time for them just to tie shorthanded Panama at 1 and eventually beat them in penalties.
Mexico is the cash cow of CONCACAF and will have the biggest crowds of the tournament, yet have certainly gotten some suspect breaks in some of these tournaments (or even to get INTO some of these tournaments). But the form of the Mexicans cannot be argued coming into this tourney. Heading into the final friendly before the tourney starts on Wednesday against Chile, they had not lost in any of 18 games since losing to Ecuador in their group stage finale of last year's Copa America.
The other favorite to get out of the group is Uruguay, who have won more Copa America tournaments than anyone else. La Celeste certainly wasn't done any favors by the tournament draw. They have to face Mexico in Arizona in what amounts to a road game. Then they go to Philadelphia to play Venezuela four days later before wrapping up group stage four days after that in northern California to meet Jamaica. All of that travel certainly wasn't welcome news to coach Oscar Tabarez, nor was the possibility for extreme heat.
Tabarez added in a pre-tourney news conference that the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in September are more of a priority for his team, which currently top the CONMEBOL qualifying one-third of the way through. Atletico Madrid defenders Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez have had a long campaign but both should be expected to play major roles if Uruguay are to get out of the group and perhaps do any more damage. Luis Suarez injured himself in Barcelona's victory in the Copa del Rey final and won't be available for the group stages of this event, at least.
That will leave the onus of the goal scoring to PSG forward Edinson Cavani, who has scored 81 goals in 148 appearances for his French club. The Uruguayans got off to a slow start in Montevideo against Trinidad & Tobago last weekend before pulling away for a 3-1 victory in their only friendly before this event starts.
While Tabarez says he knows more about Venezuela than Jamaica, it's likely the "Reggae Boyz" to be the chief threat to progress at Uruguay's expense.
Jamaica enters the event off a shock win in Chile last weekend, scoring eight minutes before and after halftime to take a 2-0 lead. Jamaica held on for the 2-1 win against the world's No. 3 team. The "Reggae Boyz" turned in solid performances at last year's Copa America and Gold Cup and won't be intimidated against any of these foes. Goaltender Andre Blake could be the x-factor. His performance for Philadelphia in MLS has helped turn the Union from a bottom-of-the-barrel Eastern Conference team into one that leads the East heading into June.
Venezuela sat poised to qualify for the World Cup in 2014 - then it got just five out of a possible 15 points in the final five games to see Uruguay slide ahead of the Venezuelans for the fifth and final qualifying spot. Since then, Venezuela has won just five of its next 23 games heading into their final friendly at Guatemala before this event begins.
“La Vinotinto” sits in last place of CONMEBOL qualifying and have just one draw in six games. The Venezuelans have scored more than one goal in a game just twice in the last 14 games going back to last year. They played a pair of friendlies last week in Central America, drawing Panama 0-0 before losing to Costa Rica, 2-1. Venezuela is rated ahead of only Bolivia in this field of 16, so a third-place group finish seems the ceiling. Anything better than that would be a major shock.
Here's our look at Copa America Group A.
Group C Schedule (All times Eastern Daylight):
June 5 - Jamaica vs. Venezuela (Chicago), 5
Mexico vs. Uruguay (Glendale), 8
June 9 – Uruguay vs. Venezuela (Philadelphia), 7:30
Mexico vs. Jamaica (Pasadena), 10
June 13 - Mexico vs. Venezuela (Houston), 8
Uruguay vs. Jamaica (Santa Clara), 10