New participants Japan will take on defending champions Chile in their first match of the Copa America on Monday.
Chile has won the last two editions of the competition. In 2015, they defeated Argentina in the final on penalties. Argentina were the opponents again in 2016 final. The game followed a similar pattern, and Chile emerged victorious in the shootout. Led by the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, Chile were a formidable outfit at the time. That squad has grown old now, but they remain a force to reckon with.
Their FIFA ranking was as high as 3rd in 2016, but it has fallen since. Chile is ranked 16th in the world going into the Copa America. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and they will hope to come back strongly. Chile reached the Confederations Cup final in 2017 but was defeated by Germany in the final. Despite being two-time defending champions, they are not the favorites this time.
They played Haiti in a friendly recently and won 2-1. Eduardo Vargas and Jose Pedro Fuenzalida got the goals for them in that game. Alexis Sanchez did not play in that game, but he will lead the attack in the tournament. With 41 goals to his name, Sanchez is the all-time leading scorer for his nation. Vargas will partner him in the attack, and he has scored 35 goals in total for Chile. Aided by a strong defense, Chile will look to start their campaign on a winning note.
Japan will stand in their way, a surprise inclusion in the tournament. Along with Qatar, Japan will be part of the Asian contingent in the Copa America. They have previously participated in the competition, back in 1999. Japan is in stunning form coming into the Copa America. Since the conclusion of the World Cup, they have won a whopping 17 out of 21 games played.Embed from Getty Images
They faced Belgium in the World Cup round of 16 and held a 2-0 lead in that match. Belgium came back to win that game. Otherwise, Japan would have reached new heights in Russia. That loss only made them stronger. Japan won every game in the Asian Cup as they reached the final. Qatar defeated them in the final to inflict upon them their first loss of the tournament.
Since the Asian Cup final, Japan has played four games. They have won three of them and have kept a clean sheet in all four. Neither sides concede many goals, and the first goal will be hugely important in this match. Captain Shinji Okazaki will lead the charge for Japan at the Copa America.
Japan vs Chile Prediction
The game will be a close one, but Chile should get their opening win. It will be a low-scoring game, with the total goals to be less than 2.5 in the match. The experience of Chile should play a role, and the two-time defending champions will get a close win over Japan.