SANTIAGO – The Copa América is the South American equivalent of the Asia Cup, the Africa Cup or the European Championships. Yet, Chile plays Japan in the group phase of the tournament. So why is it that Japan and Qatar are participating?
For Chile, the Copa América begins Monday the 17th when they take up arms against Japan. Wait, what?
How does the 2019 edition of the South American cup start for Chile with a match against an Asian country? Not only Chile plays a team in the group phase that is not from South America: in Group B, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia play Qatar, that small country in the Middle Eastern desert, so eagerly trying to play a role on the international soccer stage.
The question that arises: why are Qatar and Japan playing for the South American cup in Brazil?
Is This The First Time?
Actually, it is nothing new for the Copa to have countries that are not South American participating in the tournament. The South American soccer federation Conmebol counts 10 countries and will always need two extra countries competing to have a practical structure.
Normally, two teams get invited. For example, at the 2015 Copa América in Chile, Mexico and Jamaica participated. At the Copa América Centenario one year later, the structure was different.
This time, six countries were invited: The United States (who hosted the tournament), Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, Costa Rica and Panama. Just like (nearly all) other editions, the countries came from either Central- or North America.
Conmebol decided after the Centenario special to get back to the original structure, inviting Japan and Qatar this time.
Why Qatar And Japan at the Copa América?
The 2019 edition in Brazil will not be the first for which the two teams invited are not Central or North American countries.
Japan have played the tournament already. In 1999, they participated, and lost against Peru, Paraguay and drew against Bolivia. In 2011 and 2015 they were invited but declined.
Qatar is a different story. They have never played before the Copa América but need more experience with international tournaments, as they want to avoid being the joke of the 2022 World Championships they are organizing.
Chile plays Japan next Monday at 07.00 PM.
Read here more about the surprises in Chile’s Group C:
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and made appearances on BBC World Services and ABC News during major events in Chile.