Predicting every game for every team in the Copa America [1296x729]
Predicting every game for every team in the Copa America [1296x729] (Credit: ESPN Illustration)

Bernab u Camp Nou proposed as 30 WC venues

The last time the United States hosted a Copa America, in 2016, Brazil got knocked out in the group stages. The U.S. men's national team lost 4-0 to Argentina in the semifinals. And Argentina lost the final in penalties to Chile at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets. It was Argentina's second loss to Chile in a Copa America final in as many years, and it led to Lionel Messi -- presumably distraught at being unable to live up to the legacies created by Eli Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick on that same field -- retiring from international soccer immediately following the match.

While Messi has spent his career expanding our collective imagination of what's possible on a soccer field and in a soccer career, I don't think anyone could've accurately predicted where we'd be eight years later. Messi is in Year 2 of playing for Inter Miami, a soccer team that didn't exist in 2016. He spent two barely memorable seasons playing for Paris Saint-Germain. Oh, and he unretired so he and Argentina could finally win the Copa America and World Cup in consecutive years in his mid-30s.

Elsewhere, Chile have since failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup. The other semifinalists in 2016 missed one a piece: the U.S. failed to qualify for 2018, Colombia for 2022. Brazil didn't make it past the quarterfinals of either tournament, and just two players from their 2016 Copa team are still around in 2024 (Alisson and Marquinhos).

Mexico, meanwhile, continue to lose to the USMNT in the Nations League, a tournament that didn't exist eight years ago. And Canada are managed by Jesse Marsch -- a statement that would've been meaningless in 2016 but not so today because he's managed multiple clubs in the Champions League and the Premier League since the Copa America Centenario.

The Copa America is the kind of tournament that can change the course of soccer as we know it, and it really matters to the teams that participate. So, given all the twists and turns we've had since the last time a Copa America was played on U.S. soil, why not look at the state of the 2024 tournament and make some predictions for where this all might end up?

It's time to look into our stats-filled, analytics-powered crystal ball and predict how every single game of the 2024 Copa America plays out and who, ultimately, will be crowned the winner. Let's go!

Group A analysis and predictions

Argentina: 100 rating (tied-1st), 94.8% chance of reaching quarterfinals (per ESPN BET) Chile: 18.7 rating (11th), 46.3% chance Canada: 21.8 rating (8th), 30.3% chance Peru: 19.1 rating (10th), 30.3% chance

To rate all of these teams, I created a simple model that combines team performance with the talent level of the current squad. For the former, we're using the World Football Elo ratings, which are a continuously updated set of ratings that either awards or subtracts points based on every game played -- adjusted for scoreline, opponent quality and competitiveness of the match.

Given that they've won the last continental and global competitions, Argentina are, unsurprisingly, the highest-rated team in the world, with a rating of 2,143. For context: Eastern Samoa are the lowest-rated team in the world, ranking 241st with a rating of 377.

Elo accounts for 60% of the model, and then the other 40% comes from the overall squad value of each team, as estimated by Transfermarkt. We've normalized the transfer values to match the Elo scale, and then averaged the two values. And then we turned those numbers into a 0-100 scale -- with 100 being the best team and zero being the worst. Here's how everyone stacks up:

Argentina are in the top tier with Brazil and then ... there's no one from Group A in either of the next two tiers.

Through six matches of World Cup qualifying, Peru have two points and Chile five. The former ranks second-to-last in expected goal differential (minus-0.79) while the latter ranks third-to-last (minus-0.3). A big part of the problem for both countries is that neither one has been able to successfully turn over their team. The average age of Peru's squad is 28.9, while Chile aren't far behind at 28.6 -- both significantly older than any other team in the tournament.

Canada, meanwhile, come into the tournament with one of the younger squads: 25.6. And the likes of Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies and Lille's Jonathan David give them higher-end talent than either Chile or Peru. Given how the managerial economy works -- the best coaches get filtered up to the club game -- Canada's hiring of Marsch could also give them one of the best coaches in the tournament.

Game-by-game Group A predictions:

Argentina 2, Canada 0 Chile 2, Peru 1 Canada 1, Peru 0 Argentina 2, Chile 1 Argentina 3, Peru 0 Canada 2, Chile 1

Predicted Group A standings:

1. Argentina: 9 points, plus-6 goal differential 2. Canada: 6 points, even goal differential 3. Chile: 3 points, minus-1 goal differential 4. Peru: 0 points, minus-5 goal differential

Group B analysis and predictions

Mexico: 31.2 rating (7th), 75.7% chance of reaching the quarterfinals (per ESPN BET) Ecuador: 42.8 rating (5th), 72.6% chance Venezuela: 20.6 rating (9th), 35.4% chance Jamaica: 8.7 rating (14th), 18% chance

This is the weakest group in the tournament. Not only that, but the winner of Group B will also get to play the second-place team in Group A, which is likely to be the weakest second-place team in the tournament.

Luck of the draw plays a bigger role in tournament soccer than anyone would like to admit (see: Croatia's run to the 2018 World Cup final), and Mexico and Ecuador both got lucky before a game was even played.

Although El Tri feel like they're at their lowest point in, I don't know, 25 years, they got a cushy draw and will have a bigger home-field advantage than any other team in the tournament. Without the underlying quality of the talent or even the recent performances changing at all, Mexico could very easily make the semis and suddenly change the vibe surrounding the program.

With the second-youngest team in the tournament, budding young stars in Europe such as Chelsea's Moisés Caicedo and Bayer Leverkusen's Piero Hincapié, a solid start to World Cup qualifying (11 points, fourth place), and the favorable draw, Ecuador look like a classic dark-horse pick. The only problem: They don't have anyone who can score goals. Only Peru and Bolivia have created fewer xG in South American World Cup qualifying, and their leading scorer is Félix Torres, who plays center back.

Venezuela tied Ecuador in a relatively even home match at the end of last year and they also drew with Brazil -- in Brazil -- a few months prior. They cross the ball an absurd amount: 28% of their final-third passes in World Cup qualifying have been crosses -- way higher than any other team. That's generally an incredibly inefficient strategy, but maybe its uniqueness throws their opponents off-balance.

Jamaica's rating here is a bit inflated because of the inclusion of Aston Villa's Leon Bailey. He was genuinely one of the best attackers in Europe last season, and although he was called up to the Copa America squad, it appears he's going to reject the invitation as part of a protest against the unprofessionalism of the Jamaican federation. (History is certainly on his side here.) The likes of West Ham's Michail Antonio and former Everton winger Demarai Gray are interesting names on paper, but neither one is as dangerous as he used to be.

Game-by-game Group B predictions:

Ecuador 1, Venezuela 0 Mexico 2, Jamaica, 1 Ecuador 1, Jamaica 0 Mexico 1, Venezuela 1 Venezuela 2, Jamaica 1 Mexico 2, Ecuador 1

Predicted Group B standings:

1. Mexico: 7 points, plus-2 goal differential 2. Ecuador: 6 points, plus-1 goal differential 3. Venezuela; 4 points, even goal differential 4. Jamaica: 1 points, minus-2 goal differential

Group C analysis and predictions

Uruguay: 67.0 rating (3rd), 93.5% chance of reaching quarterfinals (per ESPN BET) United States: 36.6 rating (6th), 85.9% chance Panama: 15.0 rating (13th), 12.6% chance Bolívia: 0.0 rating (16th), 12.3% chance

Although Group B has the lowest average rating among its four teams, Group C has the weakest bottom two. As such, only Argentina has better odds to reach the quarterfinals than Uruguay, while those two, plus Brazil, are the only sides with a higher likelihood of advancing than the U.S. men's national team.

After Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay have the third most talented squad in the tournament. In Darwin Núñez, Federico Valverde, Manuel Ugarte, Ronald Araujo, Rodrigo Bentancur, and José María Giménez, they have six players who are at least Champions League-starter level. And at 37 and without functional knees, Luis Suárez continues to absolutely demolish whatever league he plays in. He was the best player in Brazil last year, and he's been lights out with Inter Miami so far this season, too.

Throw in Marcelo Bielsa, easily the most accomplished coach in the tournament, and you've got the first-place side in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. Unlike most international sides, Uruguay wants the game to be played in transition. Bielsa prefers for the ball to constantly be switching hands because he thinks he's better at coaching these situations than anyone else in the world. In Núñez and Valverde, he has two of the best transition players in world soccer, too.

We should learn a lot about the USMNT when these two teams meet in Kansas City. The Americans are massive favorites against Bolivia -- only Brazil (against Costa Rica) have shorter odds on matchday one -- and they should be heavy favorites against Panama, too.

The most likely outcome is that both the U.S. and Uruguay have six points when they meet at the beginning of next month. In that case, they'll both already be qualified. Sometimes that leads to 90 minutes of both teams staring at the ball, but I'm not sure Bielsa teams are capable of staring at the ball for 90 minutes. With their defined tactical approach and top-end talent, Uruguay might be the trickiest team the USMNT has faced in the Gregg Berhalter era.

As for the rest of the group: Bolivia are the worst team in the tournament. They have the worst results and the least talented squad. Without the advantage of playing at altitude in La Paz, they've been uncompetitive for a long time. Panama, meanwhile, took down the U.S. B- or C-team in the Gold Cup semifinals last summer. They also notched an impressive 3-0 win in Costa Rica back in November of last year, and they actually outshot Mexico, 18-6, in a 3-0 semifinal loss in the Nations League that was much closer than the final score.

Game-by-game Group C predictions:

USMNT 2, Bolivia 0 Uruguay 3, Panama 1 USMNT 3, Panama 1 Uruguay 2, Bolivia 0 Uruguay 2, USMNT 1 Panama 2, Bolivia 1

Predicted Group C standings

1. Uruguay: 9 points, plus-6 goal differential 2. USMNT: 6 points, plus-3 3. Panama: 3 points, minus-3 4. Bolivia: 0 points, minus-5

Group D analysis and predictions

Brazil: 100 rating (tied-1st), 89.7% chance of reaching quarterfinals (per ESPN BET) Colombia: 62 (4th), 77.6% chance Paraguay: 17.3 rating (12th), 20% chance Costa Rica: 3.3 rating (15th), 18%

This isn't your vintage Brazil. There's no Neymar, you've possibly never heard of the fullbacks, and the midfielders almost all play for midtable Premier League clubs.

And yet, the forward line will include some combination of Real Madrid's Vinícius Júnior, Real Madrid's Rodrygo, Barcelona's Raphinha, Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli, and the duo of phenom prospects in formerly-Girona-but-maybe-Manchester City's Sávio and Real Madrid's 17-year-old Endrick. Newcastle's Bruno Guimarães and Atalanta's Éderson were two of the best two-way midfielders in Europe this past season. The potential starting center backs play for PSG, Real Madrid and Arsenal. And Liverpool's Alisson is the best all-around goalkeeper in the world.

Brazil's results in qualifying have been substandard so far, but there's just too much talent for that to continue.

Colombia, meanwhile, haven't lost a game since February 2022, and that was against Argentina, in Argentina. They've moved up to fifth in the Elo ratings in the process, behind Argentina, France, Brazil and Spain -- in that order. Liverpool's Luis Díaz is their one star -- and their squad value ranks fifth among all teams in the tournament, behind the USMNT, whom they just destroyed 5-1 in a pre-tournament friendly.

Perhaps most pertinent: Colombia's previous two opponents in World Cup qualifying were group stage opponents Paraguay and Brazil. They won both matches, and created the better chances in each one.

Paraguay have one of the most exciting young players in the world -- 20-year-old Brighton attacking midfielder Julio Enciso -- but there's not a ton of other talent behind him. Not one of their six World Cup qualifying matches has featured more than one total goal -- there have been two total non-penalty goals scored across those games.

Incredibly, Costa Rica bring the youngest average team to the Copa America. They had the oldest team at the 2022 World Cup. It was time to turn the team over from their golden generation, but that also means that this is no longer Costa Rica's golden generation. Their recent results have dropped them down to 59th in the Elo ratings -- worse than every team in the tournament other than Bolivia.

Game-by-game Group D predictions:

Colombia 2, Paraguay 0 Brazil 4, Costa Rica 0 Colombia 3, Costa Rica 1 Brazil 3, Paraguay 1 Brazil 0, Colombia 0 Paraguay 2, Costa Rica 2

Predicted Group D standings

1. Brazil: 7 points, plus-6 goal differential 2. Colombia: 7 points, plus-4 3. Paraguay: 1 point, minus-4 4. Costa Rica: 1 point, minus-6

Predicting the quarterfinals Argentina (77% to reach semifinal) vs. Ecuador (31.1%)

The past two times these two teams played, in World Cup qualifying and in a pre-Copa tuneup, both games ended 1-0 to Argentina. Over those two games, Ecuador attempted just eight total shots.

Although the presence of Messi is the main attraction, Argentina were a dominant defensive team in Qatar. That has remained true in World Cup qualifying -- they've conceded just 2.3 non-penalty xG across six matches.

Predicted result: Argentina 1, Ecuador 0

Mexico (37% to reach semifinal) vs. Canada (9.8%)

Both of these teams would seem like "surprise" semifinalists -- Mexico because of their recent struggles, and Canada because they're, well, Canada. But the Canadians landed in a group without a strong second team after Argentina, and Mexico are currently the betting favorites to meet Argentina in the semifinals.

Hot tip: When the betting markets suggest that something counter to conventional wisdom is the most likely outcome, adopt it as your own opinion and impress your friends at a rate higher than expectation.

Predicted result: Mexico 2, Canada 1

Uruguay (50.8% to reach semifinal) vs. Colombia (33.9%)

Watching the World Cup qualifying match between these two teams induced emotional effects similar to those normally only associated with various illicit substances. Possession was almost even, both teams pressed high, they combined for 29 shots, and they created nearly 4.0 xG together. It ended 2-2, after a Darwin Núñez goal in injury time.

The big difference in the Copa America? This match won't be in Colombia.

Predicted result: Uruguay 2, Colombia 1

Brazil (72.4% to reach semifinal) vs. United States (28.7%)

At 21, Ricardo Pepi has never played in an international tournament, but he gets it. "I think anything besides making it out of the group will be bad for us, so we just want to be able to compete and get the best out of it," he told ESPN. And that's just the reality facing the Americans.

They should get out of the group -- the gap between them and Panama and Bolivia is big enough that not even bad luck should sink them. But after that, they're just not at the same level as Colombia or Brazil, their most likely quarterfinal opponents.

Yes, they did just draw the Brazilians in a friendly last week, but they were outshot 24-12 and all of their high-quality chances came after the game devolved in the second half, like most friendlies do once substitutions are made:

The USMNT's best bet for reaching the quarterfinals would be to win the group or hope Colombia win Group D.

In the Copa America, there's no extra time until the final -- a silly format that encourages underdogs to just try to hang on for dear life until the 90-minute mark so they can get to the coin flip of penalties. However, that format does favor the underdogs, which the USMNT will likely be if it makes it this far.

Predicted result: Brazil 3, United States 1

Predicting the semifinals Argentina (51.5% to reach finals) vs. Mexico (16.3%)

That Argentina percentage above represents both how random soccer is and how much better Argentina is than every other team on their side of the bracket. Despite being so much better than everyone else, it's still just about a coin flip that Messi & Co. reach the final game.

But if, say, every team in the tournament were equally matched, there would be a 12.5% chance (one in eight) that you'd reach the final. Argentina's odds are more than four times as high.

Predicted result: Argentina 2, Mexico 0

Brazil (47.0% to reach final) vs. Uruguay (23.9%)

When these teams met in World Cup qualifying, they played a truly bizarre match where Brazil maintained 61% of possession but were outshot 6-2 and lost the game 2-0. Then-manager Fernando Diniz's free-flowing possession tactics worked horribly with the national team.

I suspect -- and most projection models agree -- that Brazil will play up to their talent level this summer with a new manager who doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. They have the best goalkeeper in the tournament and the most attacking talent. This shouldn't be that complicated.

Predicted result: Brazil 1, Uruguay 1 (Brazil advances in a shootout)

Predicting the 2024 Copa America final Argentina (31.6% to win the tournament) vs. Brazil (26.7%)

A rematch of the 2019 semifinal and the 2021 final -- a rubber match of sorts, with Brazil winning en route to winning the title four years ago and Argentina beating their neighbors to lift the trophy last time out. While Brazil have the most talented team in the tournament, we're still working off a bit of projection here. They've lost their past three competitive matches, and we haven't seen the team play a non-friendly match under manager Dorival Júnior yet. Plus, they're probably going to have to beat at least two of Uruguay, Colombia and the USMNT -- Nos. 3, 4 and 6 in our rankings -- to get to the final.

Argentina, though, are maybe the most known quantity in international soccer: be defensively tough, have everyone else do the running for Messi on and off the ball, and then let Messi win the game once you have possession. We'll see how effective Messi remains after a year of playing MLS and, simply, another year of aging, but this simplified formula just works so well in the international game.

It's really hard to see Argentina screwing it up before the final. And with the title match in Miami, Argentina's captain will be playing at home. After years of the opposite being true, you bet against Messi and Argentina at your own risk.

Predicted result: Argentina 1, Brazil 0

So ... congratulations to Argentina, the 2024 Copa America champions!