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Messi, Neymar try not to be upstaged at Copa America

Published:Thursday | June 11, 2015 | 6:00 AM

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP):

Lionel Messi and Neymar aren't used to being upstaged.

It could happen as the Copa America - the South American championship - begins its 3 1/2-week run today in the wake of the FIFA corruption scandal that forced President Sepp Blatter to announce his resignation.

Many of the corruption allegations have centred on the governing body of South American soccer. Its former president, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, was one of 14 people indicted by the US Department of Justice two weeks ago on charges of bribery, racketeering and money laundering.

Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, who succeeded Leoz, was among seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich.

Messi and Argentina teammates Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez have travelled halfway around the world from the Champions League final in Berlin, along with Brazil striker Neymar and Chile players Arturo Vidal and Claudio Bravo.

They'll need to put on a show to claim back the main stage. But they are sure to be jet-lagged while tending to unfinished business from last year's World Cup.

The major absence is Luis Suarez of Uruguay, who is ineligible and still serving a ban for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup.

The main storylines will revolve around Argentina and Brazil. Argentina, the loser in last year's World Cup final against Germany, haven't won a major trophy in 22 years. The last was the Copa America.

Brazil's 7-1 battering by Germany in the World Cup semi-finals will never be forgotten, but it could be softened by winning in Chile.

Colombia and Chile may have their best teams in a generation. Even without Suarez, defending champions Uruguay are a factor.

Play opens today with Chile playing Ecuador in Santiago. Argentina play Saturday against Paraguay and Brazil face Peru on Sunday in their opener. The final is July 4.

MESSI'S MOMENT

No country in the world has more talented forwards than Argentina: Messi, Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Ezequiel Lavezzi. And no player is under more pressure than Messi, who was born in Argentina but has lived much of his life in Spain. He has yet to bring Argentina a team title, the way Diego Maradona did, or the way Pele did for Brazil. He's at his peak now and will be 31 at the next World Cup in Russia in 2018. So many see this as his time.

"We have arrived at a special moment in our careers," Messi wrote in the official magazine of the Argentine Football Association. "We came to the World Cup and barely missed out on glory. This gives us a push and makes us strong for what's coming up. This is not about revenge. We just want this team to be remembered and be able to leave our country well respected."

BRAZIL'S DAMAGED IMAGE

Brazil coach Dunga and many in the country believe the loss to Germany was a freak result.

"What happened in the World Cup was something isolated," Dunga said. "Everyone talks about the need to get back respect, but Brazilian football is still admired everywhere, the Brazilian jersey is still being coveted a lot."

Brazil have not placed as much importance on the tournament as their rivals. They have won eight times compared to 15 for Uruguay and 14 for Argentina.

Colombia have James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, who missed last year's World Cup with a knee injury.

"We have very good forwards in their prime," Colombia coach JosÈ Pekerman said, one of six Argentines coaching in the tournament.

Another Argentine coach is Jorge Sampaoli, who has a so-called "Golden Generation" with Chile led by Alexis Sanchez, Vidal and Bravo.

"Were living through a generation of fantastic football players," Sampaoli said.

It may not be obvious, but the Copa America might be nearly as difficult to win as the World Cup.

The favourites are Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. All five reached the final 16 of the World Cup in Brazil. Mexico, which plays with Jamaica as one of two guest teams, also reached the last 16, although the Mexicans are fielding a weakened team in Chile.

Jamaica Group B

(Antofagasta Stadium, Antofagasta Region)

June 13 (1600 hrs): Jamaica vs Uruguay

June 16 (1800 hrs): Jamaica vs Paraguay

June 20 (18:30 hrs): Jamaica vs Argentina

Top two from each group advance to knockout stage. Quarter-finals begin on June 24, with the semi-finals set for June 29 and 30.