Any short-list discussion about the best soccer player in the world for the last decade would include Lionel Messi. The Argentine striker has been a standout for Barcelona since joining their senior side in 2004-05, yet is still just 28 years old. He's scored over 50 goals in all competitions three times in five years for his club.
Yet for country, Messi and his fellow gang of supremely talented offensive players have not hoisted a trophy at the senior level since 1993. He has netted 52 goals in all national team games since his Argentina debut in 2006, but the team has only been runner up at Copa America in 2007 and 2015. They were also runners up in an agonizing loss to Germany in the 2014 final in Brazil.
This represents the best chance yet "La Albiceleste" has to capture some first-place silverware during the Messi era. Chile is off a win last year at home over the Argentines and is likely to suffer a bit of a hangover (as evidenced by a 2-1 home loss to Jamaica in a recent friendly). Brazil and Colombia are focusing on the Olympic Games and Uruguay and Ecuador will want to keep their places at the top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers for Russia in 2018. No other teams in the tournament have ever won it before, so Argentina will be keen in putting its best foot forward for three weeks in the States.
It won't come without a struggle. Messi is fighting a tax evasion case in Spain before he flies to California to meet up with his teammates, and he got dinged up against Honduras in a friendly last week. Lucas Biglia is injured and likely won't play, Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi are likely to miss the group opener against Chile and Erik Lamela is doubtful at well, decimating the deep midfield. Paulo Dybala will be slotted onto the Olympic team and not participate in this event. Maybe the wait will have to continue for the Argentines, who haven't seemed to get much of a break these last few weeks.
Chile is the common sense choice to win the group should Argentina falter; the defending champions won on home soil last year and are actually fielding close to a full squad. New coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has only been with the squad since February and brought an “A-team” because he presumably will want to spend more time with his best players. "La Roja" opens against the Argentines in what is the most anticipated game of the group stage, apologizes to Uruguay and Mexico aside. Can the Chileans shake off some rust that was obviously apparent in the friendly loss to Jamaica last week?
Panama is the one side capable of throwing a wrench at the top two sides, especially if "Los Canaleros" can pull an upset against one of them. Panama had an impressive Gold Cup in both 2013 and 2015 but are running out of time for an impressive tournament run. A golden age of players is on the wrong side of 30, but Felipe Baloy (35), Blas Perez (35) and Luis Tejada (34) have extensive experience in international play at this stage of their careers. Goalie Jaime Penedo has shown in spurts that he can be one of the better netminders in this event.
Don't count out crafty manager Hernan Dario Gomez's abilities on the bench, either. He turned down the Chile job in February in hopes of leading Panama to its first-ever World Cup when qualifying resumes later this year.
Bolivia is likely the worst team in the tournament. Its most talented player, Marcelo Martins, has a philosophical difference with current coach and national team legend Baldivieso. No player has more than the 54 international caps or the 14 goals than Martins, who was included in the preliminary roster but vowed to stay retired until a new regime is in charge. No other player for "La Verde" has more than eight goals and only six on the roster have ever scored in international play.
Group D Schedule (All times Eastern Daylight):
June 6 - Panama vs. Bolivia (Orlando), 7
Argentina vs. Chile (Santa Clara), 10
June 10 – Chile vs. Bolivia (Foxborough), 7
Argentina vs. Panama (Chicago), 9:30
June 14 - Chile vs. Panama (Philadelphia), 8
Argentina vs. Bolivia (Seattle), 10
Take a look at Copa America Group B Preview, right here at the new Scores and Stats.