U.S. fans set for feast of Latin American skills

Wed Jun 1, 2016 3:12pm EDT
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By Rex Gowar

(Reuters) - United States soccer audiences can turn their attention to the skills of Latin American players this month after a year of watching dozens of FIFA officials from the region parade before U.S. law enforcement officers.

Argentina captain Lionel Messi, Chile playmaker Arturo Vidal and Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez are among the leading players expected to light up the Copa America Centenario from June 3-26 in 10 U.S. cities.

The tournament was organized to mark the 100th anniversary of the Copa America, the world’s oldest continental competition first played in Buenos Aires in 1916.

It has been boosted to a 16-team format for the first time with the inclusion of six teams from CONCACAF, which governs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

That the plan to stage the tournament outside of South America for the first time has survived the massive cull of top Latin American soccer officials in the so-called Fifagate scandal is remarkable, though holding it in the United States is less of a surprise.

There had been ideas afoot for some time to expand the event to the whole of the Americas and, in light of last year’s revelations of fraud and bribery within FIFA, the U.S. was arguably the only clean venue available with the necessary infrastructure.

Messi, the world's top player who added to his many records at Barcelona with another Liga and Copa del Rey double this season, will continue his quest for a first victory with his national team after defeats in the finals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and last year’s Copa America in Chile.

Argentina are favorites with rival powerhouse Brazil fielding something of an experimental side in the absence if their star Neymar, Messi’s Barcelona team mate, who is being freed up for the Rio Olympic soccer tournament instead.   Continued...

Football Soccer - Real Madrid v Eibar- Spanish Liga BBVA - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - 09/04/16  Real Madrid's James Rodriguez celebrates goal against Eibar REUTERS/Andrea Comas