Unlikely heroes gear up for Copa América quarterfinals

The group stage of the 2024 Copa América is over, and while some surprise names have made it through the groups, there are further stories yet to be written in this year’s competition. Here are the eight quarterfinalists, hoping to go one step further. 

Written off by many prior to this year’s Copa América, Canada have grinded their way into the knockout stages with gritty performances that have featured resolute defending, outstanding goalkeeping, and plenty of physicality. Head coach Jesse Marsch had just two friendlies under his belt before his side’s opening defeat to Argentina. Losing to the world champions would hardly send Canada into panic mode, though. In their second game, Jonathan David fired in the winner against 10-man Peru. A goalless draw against Chile in the final group game was enough to seal second spot in Group A. Canada performed well, despite gaining two advantages from their opponents’ ill-discipline; Chile also received a red card against the Canadians. Containing an in-form Venezuela will be a serious test for the Canadians.

Under Fernando Batista, Venezuela are thriving. Their strong start to South America’s competitive World Cup qualifying has been transferred into this year’s Copa, where three wins in three group games have Venezuelans dreaming. Their group was not the toughest, but it still required work. They came from behind to beat 10-man Ecuador in the opener before ending a 13-game winless run against Mexico thanks to a Salamón Rondón penalty and a Rafael Romo penalty save. In their final game against Jamaica, a second-half flurry gave them a convincing 3-0 win over the departing Reggae Boyz. The intelligence of Pachuca’s Rondón and the dynamism of Real Sociedad’s Jon Aramburu will be their biggest threats when they take on Canada on Friday.

Successive Copa titles are well within reach for tournament favourites Argentina. Three wins in the group stages against Canada, Chile, and Peru were complimented by three clean sheets. The star of the show, Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez, scored four goals to ensure the Albiceleste a smooth ride to the quarterfinals. Argentina find themselves on the easier side of the draw; no inverted commas required. They’ll face Ecuador on Thursday for a place in the semi-finals, where Venezuela or Canada will await them. Failure to reach the final will be a huge disappointment.

Ecuador began their Copa campaign in disaster when talisman Enner Valencia received a red card 22 minutes into their opening defeat to Venezuela. They responded perfectly with a 3-1 win over Jamaica, followed by a goalless draw with Mexico, which was enough to qualify at the expense of the Mexicans. Moisés Caicedo has been lively for Ecuador in midfield; his two man of the match performances against Jamaica and Mexico have made the Chelsea star the focal point of Ecuador’s play. They’ll need to be at their best to break down a powerful Argentina side in Houston.

Forgotten by many at club level, Sao Paulo’s James Rodríguez has delivered for Colombia at this year’s Copa, providing three assists and much of the creativity within a well-organised team. He created both goals in his side’s opening win against Paraguay, while a sublime pass against Costa Rica allowed Jhon Córdoba to score Colombia’s third in a 3-0 win. Head coach Néstor Lorenzo hasn’t lost a game since taking over in July 2022; this record was threatened when Raphina fired in Brazil’s opener in the final group game. To Lorenzo’s satisfaction, Colombia returned fire through Daniel Muñoz and secured a 1-1 draw, securing top spot in Group D and a more favourable quarterfinal tie against Panama in Glendale.

Canada’s Jesse Marsch and Uruguay’s Marcelo Bielsa are joined by Panama’s Thomas Christiansen in forming a triad of former Leeds United coaches in the quarterfinals. The Dane led Panama to a famous and well-deserved second-place finish in Group A. Their toughest test came against Uruguay in their opener; they lost 3-1 but had good spells of pressure and were able to put Uruguay on the ropes at times. They followed up a good performance by beating tournament hopeful’s USA, in part thanks to Timothy Weah, who was dismissed early in the first half for punching Roderick Miller. A convincing 3-1 win against Bolivia in their final group game confirmed their quarterfinal status. Star midfielder Adalberto Carrasquilla, who received a two-game ban for a cynical red card late on in the USA game, is suspended for the quarter final tie against Colombia.

Brazil opened their tournament with a disappointing 0-0 draw against Costa Rica. While chances went amiss against the CONCACAF nation, the lethality of Brazil’s attack shone through in their second game against Paraguay. Vinícius Junior, the poster boy of this current Seleção side, came to life against Paraguay, scoring twice in a fine performance. However, the Real Madrid ace was shown yellow in Brazil’s final group game—a 1-1 draw against Colombia—suspending him for accumulative bookings, a rule that seems harsh whenever it is enforced. Brazil may look to young Palmeiras prodigy Endrick for some attacking spark in the quarterfinals, but they’ll need to perform better if they want to beat a strong Uruguay side.

Uruguay scored nine goals in the group stage. The lethal trio of Darwin Núñez, Facundo Pellistri, and Maximiliano Araújo all flourished as La Celeste swept aside Bolivia and Panama. Bielsa’s teams often come under fire for only being able to operate under one system; against the USA in their final group game, they showed they can also win unattractively. It was a scrappy goal that secured Uruguay victory, amid a chaotic game where attacks lacked fluidity and neither team found their stride. It’s a tough path to the final for Uruguay; it begins in Las Vegas against Brazil.

Copa América quarterfinals:

Argentina v Ecuador – July 4 in Houston

Venezuela v Canada – July 5 in Arlington

Colombia v Panama – July 6 in Glendale

Brazil v Uruguay – July 6 in Las Vegas