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South American heavyweights set to enter Copa battle

24 June 2007 18:00

CARACAS (AFP) - South American heavyweights Brazil and Argentina are set to enter battle with ten other nations as the world's oldest international football tournament, the Copa America, gets underway in Venezuela on Tuesday.

Argentina will be bidding to end their 14-year Copa America drought at the expense of defending champions Brazil, who beat them on penalties in Peru three years ago.

The 42nd edition of the 12-team tournament, which showcases South American football and was first played in 1916, is taking place in baseball-mad Venezuela for the first time from June 26 to July 15.

The competition, which is held every two years apart from when it clashes with a World Cup year, will also allow players to show what they have and secure potentially lucrative transfers to European leagues this summer.

After the disappointment of last year's World Cup, favourites Argentina and Brazil will be looking to lay the groundwork for their 2010 world qualifying campaigns.

But Uruguay, Colombia and Chile have been rebuilding and are hoping to cause some upsets, with Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia also looking to make their mark.

Venezuela will be counting on their home advantage to lift them with the two invitation teams, the United States and Mexico, both bighitters from the Concacaf region (Central American and Caribbean).

Brazil, in Group B with Mexico, Chile and Ecuador, have a new look side from the team which were shocked in the World Cup quarter-finals by France.

Dunga took over as coach from Carlos Alberto Parreira last July and has ruthlessly swung the axe with stalwarts Ronaldo, Robert Carlos, Cafu and Adriano not featuring.

Ronaldinho and Kaka have both requested to be overlooked as they recover from their seasons in Europe.

Dunga is looking to blood new talent with midfielder Elano (Shakhtar Donetsk) and striker Vagner Love (CSKA Moscow) both getting the nod, along with midfielders Anderson and Joshua, full-back Kleber and defender Alex Silva.

Defender Juan, who has agreed a moved from Bayer Leverkusen to AS Roma, Werder Bremen midfielder Diego and Arsenal's Gilberto Silva as well as strikers Robinho (Real Madrid) and Fred (Lyon) have also been included.

Dunga's confidence has been boosted by recent positive results in friendlies including a 3-0 win over Argentina and a 4-0 rout of Chile.

"The art of soccer does not exist, soccer is a competition, it is like life. In life only results count," said Dunga enigmatically.

Brazil open against Mexico on June 27 in Puerto Ordaz.

Argentina coach Alfio Basile is counting on a mixture of youth and experience as he looks for a record 15th Copa title and their first since 1993.

Basile has called up a strike force including Barcelona's teenage star Lionel Messi, West Ham's Carlos Tevez and Hernan Crespo with midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme returning after quitting last year.

Riquelme, 28, on loan from Villarreal in Spain, scored both second leg goals to help Boca Juniors win their sixth Copa Libertadores title this week, while Crespo won the Serie A title with Inter Milan.

"I have a team who have won titles, who have been victorious," warned Basile.

Argentina open on June 28 against the United States, in Maracaibo. Their Group C also includes Paraguay and Colombia.

For hosts Venezuela, drawn in Group A with Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia, the tournament is being seen as a way of improving their country's image.

President Hugo Chavez, whose government is flush with cash from booming oil prices, has ploughed a record 1,000 million dollars into ensuring their biggest sporting event since the 1983 PanAmerican Games goes off without a hitch.

That figure dwarfs the 24 million dollars spent by Uruguay in 1995, the 10 million dollars by Bolivia in 1997, 20 million by Colombia in 2001 and 13.2 million by Peru in 2004.

Three new stadia have been constructed and another six overhauled for the event which will take place in nine cities.

New roads have been built and systems of transport improved.

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