Argentina will open the 2020 Copa America with a blockbuster clash against Chile in Buenos Aires.

In a rematch of this year's third-place play-off, which Argentina won as Lionel Messi and Gary Medel were sent off, the teams will meet again at the El Monumental on June 12 next year.

While the draw took place on Tuesday, the nations already knew almost all of their opponents with teams split into zones for next year's tournament in Argentina and Colombia.

However, Australia – playing at their first Copa America – were drawn into Group A, which features Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay.

Qatar, the other invited nation, will meet Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.

Brazil will go into the tournament as defending champions after their success at home this year.

The top four teams in each group will advance to the quarter-finals.

Group A: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay.
Group B: Colombia, Brazil, Qatar, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru.

Akram Afif has been named the AFC Player of the Year for 2019 after his starring role in Qatar's Asian Cup triumph.

Afif – who has played for Al Sadd, coached by Barcelona legend Xavi, on loan from Villarreal since 2018 – provided 10 assists in seven appearances as World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar claimed their maiden Asian Cup title.

The 23-year-old saw off competition from Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Japan's Tomoaki Makino for the award, which was won by his Qatari team-mate Abdelkarim Hassan in 2018.

"Very happy to be selected as the Asian Player of the Year," Afif tweeted.

"This is a great honour for me. thanks to my team-mates and brothers the players of my club as well as the coaching staff and all the national team family, would like to tell them we are all 'players of the year'."

As well as his success in the Asian Cup, Afif also played a crucial role as Xavi's Al Sadd won the Qatar Stars League title in 2018-19, scoring 26 goals in 22 appearances.

Australia will battle old demons after being thrust into the same group as Jordan in the second round of AFC qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

The draw took place in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday and put the Socceroos on a collision course with a team that has had their measure in recent years.

Jordan have won three of five meetings since 2012, among them a 1-0 victory at the Asian Cup in January.

Chinese Taipei, Kuwait and Nepal round out Group B.

Asia's top-ranked team, Iran, are to face Bahrain, Cambodia, Hong Kong and the tricky Iraq in Group C.

Continental champions Qatar, heavyweights Japan, and South Korea, who beat Germany at the last World Cup, have each been handed straightforward paths into the third round of qualifying.

The group winners and four best runners-up advance to the third qualifying phase, with those 12 teams to also qualify automatically for the Asian Cup in four years' time.

The next best 24 teams will compete in a separate qualifying competition to determine the remaining places at China 2023.

Group A: China, Syria, Philippines, Maldives, Guam

Group B: Australia, Jordan, Chinese Taipei, Kuwait, Nepal

Group C: Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Cambodia

Group D: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Yemen, Singapore

Group E: Bangladesh, Oman, India, Afghanistan, Qatar

Group F: Japan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Myanmar, Mongolia

Group G: UAE, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia

Group H: South Korea, Lebanon, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka

An improved Argentina cruised to a 2-0 win over Qatar to revive their stuttering Copa America campaign and progress to the quarter-finals along with Group B winners Colombia.

On a night when defeat would have seen them bomb out of the competition, the Albiceleste were rarely troubled at Gremio Arena, where Lautaro Martinez fired them into an early lead after a Bassam Al Rawi error gifted him the simplest of chances.

It was not a vintage Argentina performance by any stretch of the imagination, but after defeat to Colombia and a draw with Paraguay in their opening matches, coach Lionel Scaloni will have been relieved to see his side dominate for large spells to set up a meeting with Venezuela. 

Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi both had numerous opportunities to extend Argentina's lead and the Manchester City forward did so eight minutes from time as tournament guests Qatar were dumped out of the competition despite some impressive displays.

Al Rawi's woeful clearance was easily intercepted by Martinez, who simply side-footed it into the bottom corner of the net to give Scaloni's men a fourth-minute lead.

Franco Armani had to hurtle off his line to narrow the angle on Hassan Al Haydos as he bore down on goal, the Argentina goalkeeper getting a hand to the Qatar captain's lob to keep his side in front.

But the 2022 World Cup hosts rarely threatened and were fortunate to go in trailing by only a solitary goal after Aguero fired tamely wide when Messi presented him with a golden opportunity from the edge of the box.

Aguero missed a trio of second-half chances as Qatar struggled to contain him, and goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb did well to parry the striker's stinging close-range volley.

Al Sheeb made another diving save from an Aguero pile-driver before Messi uncharacteristically ballooned over the crossbar from 12 yards with the whole goal to aim at.

Aguero finally got his goal after outpacing Boualem Khoukhi and drilling a low shot that beat Al Sheeb and bulged the bottom corner of the net to make sure of the result.

What does it mean? Crisis averted – for now

Had Argentina been forced to pack their bags, the inquest back home would have been tempestuous. As it stands Scaloni can breathe again, but he must continue to demand further improvements as his players head into the last eight.

Aguero just the tonic

After Messi and Martinez laboured in a front two in Argentina's 1-1 draw with Paraguay last time out, the addition of Aguero in a three-pronged attack did the trick here.

Al Rawi error costs Qatar

Given the way Argentina bossed the first half it is unlikely Qatar would have kept them at bay had Al Rawi not opened the door to them, but in doing so he tarnished his side's chances.

What's next?

Argentina will face Group A runners-up Venezuela in the quarter-finals, while Qatar return home with only one point but plenty of new admirers after some good moments in their three group games.

Lionel Messi is struggling to comprehend how Argentina are in danger of Copa America group-stage elimination as they prepare to face Qatar in a crucial clash on Sunday.

Argentina lost to Colombia in their first game and could only draw with Paraguay last time out, leaving them bottom of Group B, below Qatar on goal difference.

La Albiceleste have been in turmoil for 12 months, having endured a miserable World Cup campaign that cost Jorge Sampaoli his job, and they have rarely looked like a cohesive unit since Lionel Scaloni stepped up to the position.

Failure to get out of the group at the Copa America would be a new low, particularly given third place could be enough to see them progress.

"We have to think positively and keep our confidence," Messi told reporters. "We need to improve and arrive in the best shape possible for the next match... and we have to win.

"It would be crazy if we couldn't progress from the group given there are practically three teams that go through.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy playing in a Copa America, we're searching for a team, for a performance.

"Venezuela made it hard for Brazil. At the moment, we're not winning any more in the [Argentina] shirt and we have to put things right to earn the three points against Qatar."

Tournament guests Qatar have given a solid account of themselves so far, with the 2019 Asian Cup champions drawing 2-2 with Paraguay in their opener before suffering a slender 1-0 defeat to Colombia, one of the favourites to lift the trophy.

Qatar defender Tarek Salman was particularly impressed by the side's showing against Colombia, but hopes they learn from their mistakes against Argentina.

"We are proud with our display against Colombia. Hopefully we will do well against Argentina also," he said.

"It was a tough match against Colombia. We deserved a draw. We had a lot of chances to score while the Colombians played one of their best matches.

"These are the games you see now, and we have to forget this clash and look to our meeting against Argentina."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Qatar – Almoez Ali

The star of the Qatar side and their biggest threat in attack, Ali will surely be crucial to their hopes of securing a spot in the next round. It is difficult to see Argentina drawing a blank, meaning the goalscoring burden will be on Ali.

Argentina – Lionel Messi

As ever, all eyes will be on Messi, regardless of how well the rest of the team plays. As their talisman and captain, all of Argentina will be hoping Messi can weave his magic to avoid humiliation.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Argentina have lost only two of their last 23 games against Asian countries in all competitions (W18 D3). Both were friendlies, against China in 1984 (0-1) and Japan in 2010 (0-1).
- Argentina have won their last six games against Asian countries on neutral venues: three in World Cups, one in the Confederations Cup and two in friendlies.
- The last time Argentina failed to progress from the group stage of a Copa America was in 1983, when only one of three teams per group was advancing.
- Argentina have earned only one point in their first two matches of the tournament, their worst Copa America start since 1979, when they lost their first two games.
- Messi was the only player from Argentina to have more than one shot on target (two) in the draw against Paraguay. Both came from set-pieces (a direct free-kick and a penalty).

Duvan Zapata's late header saw Colombia edge Qatar 1-0 to book their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Zapata's 86th-minute goal was enough for Carlos Queiroz's men in the Group B encounter after they had struggled to consistently threaten a well-organised Qatar side.

Radamel Falcao started on the bench and James Rodriguez's impact was limited, at least until the latter set up the winner with a sublime pass.

Zapata met James' wonderful pass and headed into the far corner to move Colombia onto six points, while Qatar were left on one.

Colombia had a sixth-minute header by Yerry Mina correctly ruled out for offside against Roger Martinez.

However, they should have gone ahead in the 13th minute, only for James to steer a header wide after a great Martinez cross from the right.

Colombia controlled possession – they had 68 per cent in the first half – but struggled to penetrate Qatar's defence.

The lively Juan Cuadrado forced a comfortable save from Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb from distance, while Stefan Medina sliced an effort into the side-netting.

Colombia thought they had a penalty for a handball by Abdulaziz Hatem to begin the second half, but the decision was reversed after a VAR review.

Set-pieces continued to look like Colombia's most likely avenue to a goal as Mina headed a corner wide in the 56th minute.

Martinez squandered one of his side's best chances just after the hour-mark, cutting inside after a good pass from James but shooting low and straight at Al Sheeb.

Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina was tested twice before Al Sheeb made another fine stop to deny Martinez.

But Queiroz's men would find their goal, James' wonderfully chipped pass met by Zapata for the match-winner before the latter missed a glorious chance to complete his brace.

 

What does it mean? Colombia do enough

Colombia have now made it out of the group stage at the past four editions of the tournament. Despite that, there is plenty of room for improvement going forward.

Colombia need Falcao to fire

After a subdued performance against Argentina, Falcao was left on the bench to start the encounter against Qatar. Colombia struggled to have an impact in the attacking third before Zapata's second goal of the tournament. Falcao's last international goal not from the penalty spot came in October last year and the nation's all-time top scorer must step up.

Qatar continue to show good signs

The guests and 2022 World Cup hosts came from behind to draw with Paraguay in their opener and this time they almost denied Colombia. Qatar were well-organised and looked threatening on the break at times during the second half, almost doing enough to earn another point.

What's next?

The teams complete their group-stage campaigns on Sunday, with Colombia meeting Paraguay and Qatar taking on Argentina.

Eduardo Berizzo believes the Copa America should be exclusive to nations from the Americas after guests Qatar secured a draw against Paraguay on Sunday.

Asian Cup champions Qatar – invited to participate in this year's tournament along with Japan – overturned a two-goal deficit to earn a shock 2-2 draw against Berizzo's Paraguay in their Copa opener.

CONMEBOL has a history of inviting nations to compete, and Asian nation Australia are set to take part in the 2020 edition in Colombia and Argentina.

Reflecting on Paraguay's Group B draw in Rio de Janeiro, head coach Berizzo told reporters: "I think it would make sense to play a Copa America with teams from all the Americas.

"Are you asking me about invited nations, right? About Qatar and Japan? I think we should imagine a whole Copa America, with Central America and North America playing all the same tournament.

"I never saw Europe inviting any South American team to compete.

"Don't take it wrong, maybe it sounds a little acidic today, just after playing against our rival [Qatar]. But I firmly believe Copa America should be played by all the American teams in one tournament – CONCACAF and CONMEBOL together."

Paraguay looked to be on track for a winning start thanks to Oscar Cardozo's fourth-minute penalty before Derlis Gonzalez added an unstoppable second.

Qatar, however, fought back in the second half via Almoez Ali and Juan Rodrigo Rojas – who headed a Boualem Khoukhi effort into his own goal.

"This result disappoints us all, we all want to win, from the fan to the coach," Berizzo said. "We need to mind our rival, our reality, a lot of things that explains a lot about this situation.

"This is a new cycle for the team, there is no way I didn't know Copa America was coming to this date, so I cannot make any excuse of it if we cannot play well, when we play well I will tell you we did it.

"Today we had a hard time finding the ball, especially in the middle of the field, and especially after being 2-0 up. If we would have this done, we should get another result."

Qatar came from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Paraguay in their Copa America debut, Rodrigo Rojas heading a Boualem Khoukhi effort into his own goal for a bizarre late equaliser.

Paraguay looked set to claim all three Group B points in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday after taking a fourth-minute lead thanks to Oscar Cardozo's penalty, with Derlis Gonzalez scoring an unstoppable second.

But invited guests Qatar, who won their maiden Asian Cup earlier this year, showed character to fight back and star man Almoez Ali got them back in the game with a curler from outside the box.

And when Khoukhi's shot squeezed through Paraguay goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez, the backtracking Rojas could only nod the ball in before getting tangled in the net and seemingly damaging his shoulder.

Qatar made a chaotic start in their Copa debut, almost conceding in the first minute before Pedro Miguel gave away a penalty for blocking a Bruno Valdez header with his arm.

Paraguay striker Cardozo had not played at the Copa since 2007 but he stepped up to smash the resulting spot-kick straight down the middle to open the scoring.

Qatar should have levelled in the 16th minute but, arriving unmarked at the back post, Hassan Al Haydos somehow failed to convert a low left-wing cross from Abdelkarim Hassan.

Almoez Ali was denied by Roberto Fernandez on the stroke of half-time, with Paraguay seeing a second goal for Cardozo disallowed by VAR within five minutes of the restart.

Paraguay would not be denied in the 56th minute, however, as half-time substitute Gonzalez unleashed a 25-yard rocket that curled away from the desperate dive of goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.

Scoring nine goals at the Asian Cup marked Ali out as a man to watch and he unleashed a terrific hit from 20 yards to make it 2-1 and spark hope of a comeback.

And when Rojas lacked composure in front of his own goal with 13 minutes to play, Qatar had earned a priceless Copa point to justify their inclusion.

Many of the world's best players will be on show in Brazil over the next few weeks for the 2019 edition of the Copa America, but there will also be some talents hoping to use the tournament as a springboard.

For every Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez there will be a less familiar name attempting to establish himself on the international stage, potentially earning a big move.

The tournament sees the traditional CONMEBOL nations take part, plus guests Qatar and Japan, the latter of whom have named a squad mostly made up of players likely to feature in next year's Olympics.

With the Copa America starting on Friday, we have spoken to the experts to identify one potential breakout star to watch for each nation.

 

GROUP A

Brazil - David Neres (Ajax)

Tom Webber (Brazilian football expert): Following a stellar season with Champions League semi-finalists Ajax, Neres has a great chance to make his mark on the international stage. The 22-year-old winger is expected to be handed a starting role following Neymar's injury-enforced withdrawal, despite only making his first start in the 7-0 demolition of Honduras on June 9. Neres scored 12 goals and supplied 11 assists in all competitions for Ajax in 2018-19 and appears primed to make a mark on the Copa America, with plenty of interested parties likely to be keeping a close eye on him.

Bolivia - Edwin Saavedra (Bolivar)

Andres Mendez Dott (Bolivian football expert): Saavedra is a direct and explosive midfielder who started his career as right-back but now plays further forward. At the age of 23, he is closing in on 200 appearances for Bolivar and had a short spell at Brazilian side Goias. Humble off the pitch, he is rather more audacious on it, as he is not afraid to shoot from distance or take on defenders. Coach Eduardo Villegas is still undecided about his starting midfield, but we can expect Saaverdra to be a part of it. There are some rumours he might be deployed on the left, but either way, if he gets the ball and some space, you can count on him testing Dani Alves or Filipe Luis against Brazil. The Copa will be very challenging for Bolivia, but Saavedra could make his mark.

Peru - Renato Tapia (Willem II, on loan from Feyenoord)

Diego Montalvan (Peruvian sports journalist): If there's one player to watch in the Peru side, it's 23-year-old Renato Tapia, coming off arguably his best season in Europe with Willem II. The tournament will also enable him to put himself in the shop window, as he is reportedly looking for a transfer away from parent club Feyenoord. A central midfielder who can also fill in defensively, for Peru Tapia generally plays the role of destroyer to Yoshimar Yotun's creator, but if given the freedom to move forward he can create and even chip in with a few 'golazos'. 'El capitan del futuro', as he is called by many in Peru, is already an undisputed starter, but if he wants to stay in Europe he will have a point to prove in Brazil.

Venezuela - Wuilker Farinez (Millonarios)

Daniel Alvarez Montes (Venezuelan sports journalist): Farinez was part of the Venezuela squad in Chile for the 2015 Copa America when he was just 17. Many criticised then-coach Noel Sanvicente for that decision, knowing Farinez was not going to play. However, Sanvicente insisted it was a great opportunity for Farinez to grow. Four years later, we can say that decision was arguably his best one while in charge of La Vinotinto. Farinez played a significant role for Venezuela's youth sides after that, making a huge impact in tournaments at several age levels. Currently playing for Millonarios in Colombia, the Copa America will be a massive opportunity for him to show the world what he is capable of. Europe could be his next stop, with Benfica front-runners to acquire him.

GROUP B

Argentina - Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis)

Peter Coates (Buenos Aires-based football writer): Finding a balance in midfield, linking defence to attack and crucially providing a partner for Lionel Messi have been issues for Argentina for several years. A new-look squad for the Copa America sees much of that responsibility fall on the shoulders of Lo Celso and coach Lionel Scaloni has already spoken highly of the 23-year-old, hoping the Real Betis playmaker and the world's best player can reproduce a relationship he has already witnessed on the training field. Something akin to an old-fashioned 'enganche' of yesteryear, Lo Celso will operate in the spaces behind the striker and allow Messi to roam off the right with his usual menace. The Rosario Central product's eye for a pass, ability to work in tight spaces and sweet left foot could make him the ideal partner for Messi and crucial to La Albiceleste's success.

 

Paraguay - Matias Rojas (Defensa y Justicia)

Roberto Rojas (Paraguayan journalist): Rojas is expected to be La Albirroja's breakout player in this Copa America. A product of the esteemed Cerro Porteno academy, the 23-year-old followed the path of various Paraguayans looking to get their first break abroad by heading to Argentina, where he was initially loaned to Lanus in 2017, before joining modest Defensa y Justicia the following year. He became a key player for Sebastian Beccacece's team, who secured an historic second-place finish in the 2018-19 Superliga. A central midfielder known for his passing and dangerous set-pieces, Rojas has already signed a contract to join Racing Club, who finished just ahead of Defensa y Justicia. Paraguay manager Eduardo Berizzo is likely to play Rojas in a 4-3-3 formation, where he will be expected to combine with Newcastle United's Miguel Almiron as the team's two-man creative hub.

Qatar - Almoez Ali (Al-Duhail)

Martin Lowe (Asian football expert): Ali went from relative obscurity to the name on everyone's lips at the Asian Cup, finishing as the highest-scoring player and breaking Ali Daei's record with nine goals from seven matches as Qatar claimed a surprise success. A languid target man with strength and the eye for a goal, he threatens from even the trickiest situations and cemented his MVP status at the Asian Cup with an outrageous bicycle kick in the final. Ali – born in Sudan – remains a contentious case amid questions over his eligibility, but he has been allowed to continue representing Qatar. He blossomed in a number of international youth teams, tending to fill his boots whenever he got the opportunity. His all-round game has improved, having been shifted out wide for his club side Al-Duhail, but he is mostly used as a static focal point with more creative types such as Akram Afif and Hassan Al-Haydos playing off him.

Colombia - Luis Diaz (Junior)

Simon Edwards (South American football writer): Diaz is a hugely exciting winger who will be tasked with bringing fresh impetus to Colombia off the bench. He was spotted by Carlos Valderrama and 'El Pibe' recommended Junior snap him up. He has become a star of Colombian league football, with offers received from River Plate and Cardiff City. Diaz plays with the fearless enthusiasm and the joy of a child, but has also complimented his unpredictable, weaving dribbles with goals and improved defensive discipline. He is now a complete attacking midfielder who tracks back and provides a threat. Diaz draws defenders but has the skill and invention to craft a solution. 'Luchito' will take risks and lose possession occasionally, but he also has the quality, pace and confidence to have a huge impact for this Colombia side.

GROUP C

Chile - Erick Pulgar (Bologna)

Adam Brandon (Chile-based South American football writer): Erick Pulgar will probably be given a chance to shine in central midfield in the Copa America after his stellar season with Bologna in Italy. The 25-year-old is good on the ball, passes well and can play a more defensive role as well. He also boasts an excellent penalty record, which could come in handy for Chile again in this Copa America, given how the 2015 and 2016 finals were won.

Japan - Takefusa Kubo (FC Tokyo)

Stuart Smith (Japan-based football writer): Japanese fans will line up to tell you 18-year-old attacker Takefusa Kubo, currently with FC Tokyo but almost certainly headed to a big European club very soon, is the Samurai Blue's player to watch. Small, fleet-footed and not afraid to try tricks, he has shown a maturity beyond his years this season in the J.League. He spent his formative years at Barcelona's famed La Masia, and his technical ability is a testament to that period. Excellent with both feet, extremely skilful and able to spot and drift into spaces that other players cannot, Kubo has the potential to develop into an outstanding player. Coach Hajime Moriyasu will try to manage expectations, but it will be difficult to keep such a talented player off the pitch for too long.

Ecuador - Jhegson Sebastian Mendez (Orlando City)

Xavier Zavala (Ecuadorian football analyst): Coach Hernan Dario Gomez will implement a defensive approach that will appeal to Mendez's greatest strengths, which are his tackling efficiency and relentless motor. The 22-year-old midfielder has shown he is capable of man marking without being rash or overly aggressive and his position with Ecuador will be similar to at Orlando City, where he plays a deep-lying role. The challenge he has is dislodging the Liga de Quito partnership of Jefferson Orejuela and Jefferson Intriago, but given the stamina the system used by 'El Bolillo' requires, rotation is to be expected. Once Mendez gets his chance, he will be in a position to prove his worth.

Uruguay - Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors)

Nick Dorrington (freelance South American football journalist): Nandez is an all-action midfielder who has become a regular for Uruguay over the last year or so, usually playing off the right-hand side. A boundlessly energetic little terrier of a player, he snaps away at the heels of opponents, runs up and down and back again, and gets the ball forward quickly. He is also capable of moments of genuine quality, such as the ball he played through to release Dario Benedetto for Boca Juniors' goal in their Copa Libertadores final defeat to River Plate in December. Linked with a move to Europe, the Copa America could be a useful shop window for the 23-year-old.

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