Dual objective for South America’s finest

Women’s football is growing fast around the globe, and South America is no exception. Just to prove the point, the ten nations that make up the CONMEBOL Zone have been preparing intensively for the fifth Copa America, which starts in Ecuador on Thursday. As well as the incentive of becoming queens of the continent, the contenders will also be battling for two places at both the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.

The draw for the prestigious continental championships divided the ten teams into two pools of five, with the host nation joining defending champions Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Chile in Group A, and Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay lining up in Group B. The top two in each section will go forward to a final four-team round-robin phase to decide the champions and runners-up.

FIFA.com looks ahead to the competition and assesses the chances of Brazil and Argentina – the only two teams to have represented the South America at the FIFA Women’s World Cup – continuing their regional domination.

Group A: Holders on their guard
Having ended Brazil’s run of three consecutive titles in 2006, and despite the recent travails of the country’s youth teams, Argentina are the clear favourites to top Group A. “People are saying we’re the favourites but we need to go step by step and keep our objectives firmly in mind. We can’t afford to see the group as a foregone conclusion,” warned Jose Carlos Borrello, the man who steered them to success four years ago.

One of the main threats to La Albiceleste will be Chile, where the women’s game has progressed to such an extent that the country hosted the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup two years ago, with Las Rojitas also qualifying for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010.

Chile coach Marta Tejedor">

We’ve been working hard towards that goal over the last two years and there’s a lot of quality in the team.
Chile coach Marta Tejedor

Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, national coach Marta Tejedor was bullish about Chile’s prospects: “Our goal is to reach the World Cup and the Olympic Games and to do that we need to finish in the top two. We’ve been working hard towards that goal over the last two years and there’s a lot of quality in the team.”

Describing Brazil as a cut above everyone else, Tejedor identified Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay as their main obstacles to reaching that objective, one she believes they can only reach by beating the best.

Judging by Deportivo Quito’s run to the semi-finals of the 2010 Women’s Copa Libertadores, where they were beaten on penalties by eventual runners-up Everton, hosts Ecuador have the potential to push for honours. “We know it’s a step up in class, but I believe in my players’ abilities,” said their upbeat coach Juan Carlos Ceron.

Making up the group are Peru, who have a lot to do to match the third place they achieved in 1998, and Bolivia, yet to make an impact on the women’s scene.

Group B: Brazil brimming with belief 
As to be expected of a team with the likes of four-time FIFA Women’s World Player Marta, Cristiane and Renata Costa in their ranks, Brazil have been widely tipped to regain the title. “The team’s looking good,” said coach Kleiton Lima in confident tone. “We can see the progress they’re making in every training session and match, and we’ve had the chance to put a few things right. The results have been good so far. We’ve been bringing some new blood in without sacrificing experience, and that’s given us a balanced squad.”

With Brazil seemingly in a class of their own, the best the rest can probably aspire to is second. Given their fourth place at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, Colombia should have an excellent chance of claiming it, although as coach Ricardo Rozo told FIFA.com, he is setting his sights even higher: “We’ve got a team that’s not unlike the U-20 side and who can build on this new era in Colombian women’s football. That’s why our aim has to be to qualify for the World Cup and become South American champions. This is a fantastic opportunity to show just how good we are.”

Rozo is right to list Paraguay as one of Las Cafeteras’ main threats. Nelson Basualdo’s side pack a big punch up front, with Gloria Villamayor, a “veteran” of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008 and one of the leading scorers in the Libertadores with seven goals, leading the line.

Despite causing a stir by qualifying for Trinidad and Tobago 2010, Venezuela’s aspirations are a good deal more modest on this occasion. “The goal is keep on developing in South America, which means improving on the four points we got last time and climbing from our current position of eighth to fifth or sixth. Anything else will be a bonus for us,” commented La Vinotinto’s Panamanian coach Kenneth Zseremeta.

Last but not least, Uruguay travel to Ecuador with a young side that will need to be at their very best if they are to repeat their third place of four years ago.