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United States' Copa Centenario a turning point for CONCACAF's World Cup teams

United States' Copa Centenario a turning point for CONCACAF's World Cup teams
From ESPN - April 16, 2018

As the World Cup looms closer, a growing level of frustration in the United States soccer community would be understandable. But even though the U.S. national team will not be in Russia, the country can take some comfort from the role it played in shaping the road to the World Cup, especially as far as the South American teams are concerned.

Nowadays the Copa America is played every four years, kicking off a new cycle of competitive action. In the year after the World Cup there has been nothing but friendlies. The Copa helps whip teams into shape for the next batch of World Cup qualifiers, which get underway soon afterwards.

In this cycle, of course, there was the extra Copa -- the event to celebrate the centenary of the competition which took place across the United States in June 2016. At this point, six of the 18 rounds of World Cup qualifiers had been played. The tournament gave the teams a chance to regroup as they looked ahead to the remaining two thirds of the action.

Thankfully, what appeared to be the most significant change brought about by the Copa Centenario did not come to fruition. Dejected after yet another defeat in a final, Lionel Messi wandered away from the stadium in New Jersey, announcing his retirement from international football.

It was Argentina's good fortune -- and the World Cup's as well -- that he quickly rethought that proclamation and decided to give the competition one more try. Had he stayed away, then Argentina would almost certainly not have made it to Russia.

Messi's team had lost the Copa title to Chile after a penalty shootout, but the Copa Centenario proved to be something of a pyrrhic victory. It was Chile's third summer tournament in consecutive years -- and winning it obliged them to take part in a fourth, the 2017 Confederations Cup.

All this activity took its toll on a generation that had been together for a decade and were ageing together. They ran out of steam in the final rounds of World Cup qualification and missed out on Russia. At least they can look back on perhaps the most remarkable 90 minutes in the history of the Chile national team -- that extraordinary 7-0 quarterfinal thrashing of Mexico in Santa Clara.

But it was in Foxborough, just outside Boston, that the Copa Centenario proved most influential. The final group game in the Gillette stadium cut two ways -- with both Peru and Brazil being able to claim long-term victory.

The only goal seemed clearly to have been punched in off the arm of Raul Ruidiaz. But however it came about, beating Brazil was a before-and-after moment for Peru. They picked up such confidence that they have now equalled the La Blanquirroja's all-time record unbeaten run -- and will break the record if they avoid defeat against Scotland in their send-off match in Lima at the end of next month.

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