The 2019 Copa America gets underway on Friday in Brazil as the host nation takes on Bolivia in Sao Paulo. The tournament will consist of 26 matches building up to the July 7 final at the famed Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Twelve teams -- 10 from South American and two invitees in Japan and Qatar -- will fight to be named kings of South America. The tournament is loaded with big-name talent like Argentina's Lionel Messi, Brazil's Philippe Coutinho, Uruguay's Luis Suarez and more It's always one of the more entertaining international competitions. Before the action begins, here are 10 bold predictions:
1. Brazil won't miss Neymar
Neymarand my guess is the Brazilian national team won't miss his absence. This team now becomes Philippe Coutinho's in the attack, and they are just oozing with talent like Gabriel Jesus and/or Roberto Firmino up top to overcome his absence. This team is stable all over, and Neymar is at times a distraction, whether it is with or . While it would have made more sense to replace him with a young guy like Vinicius Jr. to plant the seeds for 2022 instead of Willian, I still love what Brazil has, and they are still rightfully the favorites.
2. Argentina will show promise following miserable World Cup
Argentina will be improved when it comes to the quality on the field, and part of that is not having some of the past-their-prime veterans on the roster. Argentina had 14 players on the 2018 World Cup roster over the age of 30, and this current roster features just eight, including practically permanent fixtures like Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. Coach Lionel Scaloni has opted for a bit of a youth movement and has brought along guys who have proven themselves in Europe but maybe aren't at the level of being a household name. There's Leandro Paredes of PSG, German Pezzella of Fiorentina, Marcos Acuna of Sporting Lisbon, Rodrigo de Paul of Udinese and Real Betis' Giovani Lo Celso. This jolt of energy with some faces having bigger roles will result in a better product and an increased expectation.
3. Chile won't make it out of the group stage
Chile has won the last two Copa America titles, all coming at the expense of Messi and Argentina. That said, Claudio Bravo and Alexis Sanchez have fallen off the map, while Eduardo Vargas has been incredibly inconsistent. Arturo Vidal is still the leader in the middle of the field and Gary Medel is a defensive bulldog, but this team lacks in a lot of other areas. After winning the opener against Japan, they slip up against Ecuador and Uruguay and crash out just barely.
4. Suarez will get Uruguay to the final
After missing the end of Barcelona's season due to injury, Suarez comes back strong in the Copa America, leads Uruguay in goals and gets them to the final where they lose to Brazil. Some people have doubted his ability and whether or not he can continue to deliver, but let's remember that the 32-year-old is coming off a 25-goal season with Barcelona and still has plenty to offer. He's going to light it up and quiet some doubters.
5. Qatar will actually be OK
Don't be surprised to see Qatar to show a little promise and maybe even sneak out a draw against Paraguay. The team isn't going to turn heads, but could show just a bit of promise. Let's not forget that this squad won the AFC Asian Cup with a 3-1 win over Japan. Far from talented, they'll want to build momentum before they host the next World Cup in 2022.
6. Zapata's stock will rise for Colombia
Zapata is an interesting story. The 28-year-old striker has never really settled in while in Europe. After struggling at America de Cali early on, he showed promise at Estudiantes in Argentina, earning a move to Napoli. Three loan moves later and a permanent move to Sampdoria, he finally exploded this past season. He scored 28 goals in 48 games, beating his goal record in Europe by 17 strikes. He'll be a backup for Colombia but will supplement Radamel Falcao well and increase his stock, becoming one of the guys to watch with Atalanta next season in UCL.
7. Gabriel Jesus will be the top scorer
Gabriel Jesus finishes the tournament as the top scorer with seven goals, two of which come in the opener. The Manchester City man mixes it up with some tap-ins and brilliant runs. He becomes the focal point of the attack alongside Coutinho and leads Brazil to glory at home.
8. Peru will only sneak through
The 2018 World Cup was a special tournament for Peru, as the country ended an more-than-three-decade drought to return to the biggest stage. Those increased expectations at the Copa America will see the team only get through in third place, and just barely. A humbling loss to Venezuela to start the tournament puts the pressure on against Bolivia and Brazil. Peru will get through due to goal differential, relying too much on 35-year-old Paolo Guerrero and 34-year-old Jefferson Farfan.
9. Knockout stage for Ecuador
Ecuador is buzzing after its fine run in the U-20 World Cup, finishing the tourney in the top four. The senior team creates more momentum after some down years by getting into the knockout stage. Led by a proven coach in Hernan Diaz, who helped lift Panama to new heights, he gets more out of his veterans like Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia, with Angel Mena staying hot. Mena plays at Leon of Mexico and was top scorer in Liga MX for the Clausura with 14 goals. He'll shine big time.
10. Messi calls it (international) quits after the tournament
Messi plays well and gets Argentina to the semifinals, but a loss to Brazil and more international heartbreak sees him call it quits, retiring from the national team. After the narrow loss to Brazil, he'll tell the media that it's time to turn the page and give a chance to the next generation and build for the future ... before he returns to the national team three months later.