NEW YORK (AP) _ The United States will play Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay in what appears to be a difficult first-round group in the Centennial Copa America.
In the opener of a special 16-nation tournament whose business deals led to indictments against a slew of top soccer executives on corruption charges, the Americans play the Colombians on June 3 at Santa Clara, California. The U.S. meets regional rival Costa Rica four days later at Chicago, then closes Group A play against Paraguay at Philadelphia on June 11.
To U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the daunting group that emerged from Sunday night’s draw at the Manhattan Center reminds him of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where the U.S. opened with a 2-1 win over Ghana, tied Portugal 2-2 and lost to Germany 1-0, good enough to finish second. The Americans were eliminated with a 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium in the round of 16.
“It’s doable. We had a similar kind of scenario in Brazil, and we went through,” Klinsmann said. “First or second with that group is both tremendously fine.”
Other groups are:
B_Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, Peru
C_Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela
D_Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Panama
Colombia went 3-0 in its group at the World Cup and was knocked out by Brazil in the quarterfinals. Ranked eighth in the world, Colombia has a player pool that includes stars James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez.
“We know we start right on our toes with the opening whistle in Santa Clara,” Klinsmann said.
In a famous match during the group stage of the 1994 World Cup, the U.S. upset the Colombians 2-1 at the Rose Bowl, a result that led 10 days later to the murder of Andres Escobar, a 27-year-old Colombian defender who had deflected a pass from John Harkes into his net for an own goal.
Two years ago, Colombia beat the U.S. 2-1 in an exhibition in London.
“One of the toughest groups because of the history of all the teams involved,” Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said.
Costa Rica is ranked 31st, second in the North and Central America and Caribbean region behind Mexico, which is 22nd. The U.S. is 32nd, and Paraguay is 42nd.
The top two teams in each of four groups advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament, which will be played at 10 U.S. venues from June 3-26. The semifinals are in Houston and Chicago, and the championship is at East Rutherford, New Jersey.
If the U.S. tops its group, it would play the second-place team from Group B at Seattle. If the Americans finish second, they would play the Group B winner at East Rutherford.
“We have to learn how to win knockout games,” Klinsmann said. “No better way to start it than a Copa America.”
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, a five-time world player of the year, already has committed to playing in the tournament. Organizers also hope it will include top stars such as Brazil’s Neymar, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Chile’s Alexis Sanchez.
“This will give the game again a huge boost in the United States,” Klinsmann said.
The U.S. is coming off a mediocre 2015, when it was eliminated by Jamaica in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. That forced the Americans into a playoff for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup, a match they lost to Mexico.
The tournament was planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Copa America, South America’s championship, and federal prosecutors alleged a company formed to buy the Centennial Copa America’s marketing rights agreed to pay $110 million in bribes to South American soccer officials.
The last three presidents of soccer’s governing bodies for South America and the CONCACAF region have been indicted, including former CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, who agreed to plead guilty. The corruption probe led FIFA President Sepp Blatter to announce his resignation last spring, just days after he was elected to a fifth term. His successor is due to be chosen Friday by a special FIFA Congress.
Following the initial indictments in May, the U.S. Soccer Federation refused to host the tournament until the previous business agreements were terminated.