NEW YORK (Reuters) - The hosting United States were drawn into the group of death for the 2016 Copa America Centenario on Sunday, opening against Colombia in the 100th anniversary of soccer’s oldest international championship.
The U.S. side topped Group A as one of four seeded teams for the tournament as the hosts, and landed a pair of 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists in Colombia and Costa Rica, along with Paraguay in their four-team cluster in which two teams will advance.
Their match against Colombia on June 3 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., launches a 16-team version of the South American championship that has expanded by four teams and is being staged outside the South American CONMEBOL nations for the first time.
“I take full responsibility and I apologize to the nation,” 1994 U.S. World Cup player Alexi Lalas told reporters after pulling out the balls that gave the U.S. an uphill climb and brought groans from a packed audience at Hammerstein Ballroom.
Brazil opens Group B against Ecuador at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif, on June 4, one day before Mexico gets the tough Group C started against 15-times winner Uruguay at University of Phoenix Stadium at Glendale, Arizona.
Argentina, a 14-times winner of the championship and host of the inaugural competition in 1916, begins Group D play against defending champions Chile on June 6 at Levi’s Stadium.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he was energized about his 32nd-ranked team facing Colombia, ranked eighth in the FIFA world rankings.
“Colombia is just exciting. We played them one-and-a-half years ago in London and we had them right on the edge, and then we gave an easy goal away right at the end. But it was an even game for 90 minutes. It’s going to be cool,” he said.
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, a five-times world player of the year, has already committed to playing and organizers hope that Brazil’s Neymar, Luis Suarez of Uruguay and Chile’s Alexis Sanchez will also be among the world’s top players to compete in this Olympic year.
Klinsmann said he hoped the very best players take part.
“We all want to see the best players from South America. We can’t wait to have James Rodriguez (of Colombia) here, Messi and Neymar and all these wonderful players showcasing themselves in the United States,” said the U.S. coach.
”I think the next couple of weeks people will become aware of what is coming. It’s an avalanche. I think it will get all the soccer people excited and they will all want to be a part of it.
“I think it is a fantastic opportunity for us to show again that the game is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. This will give the game a huge boost in the United States.”
The final of the prestigious tournament will be held on June 26 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Editing by Andrew Both