What is Copa America?

The oldest international continental football competition. Copa America was played on a near-annual basis in the 1920s, but took a six-year break in the 1930s while the sport in South America turned professional.

Competition: COPA AMERICA
Founded: 1916
Confederation: CONMEBOL
Number of teams: 16

Copa America is a renowned international football tournament under the umbrella of CONMEBOL. Formerly known as South American Football Championship, Copa brings South American teams together to contest hence determining the continental champions. It is ranked as the most prestigious sporting event and most widely viewed in the world arena.

History and origin

Argentina in Copa America 1916
The Argentinian National football team at the 1916 South American Championship (now known as Copa America) posing before the match vs. Chile.

South American Championship

The first edition of the tournament was held in 1916. To commemorate its independence in style, Argentina held a tournament that involved four teams. The participants were Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. Uruguay emerged as the champions by recording a 0-0 tie with the hosts Argentina. This tournament, which was referred to as Campeonato Sudamericano De Football, marked the first edition of Copa America.

Thrilled by the results of the tournament, Hector Rivadavia, a board member of the Uruguayan Football Association proposed the formation of a confederation involving the four teams. The proposal pulled through and on July 9, 1916, Copa America was formed. The competition was held again in Uruguay the following year and Uruguay triumphed after defeating Argentina in the last match of the tournament.

The title remained highly competitive, in 1919 the defending champions were for the first time defeated by Brazil in a play-off contest that was hosted by Brazil. Paraguay joined the contest in 1921 and during the same year, Argentina was crowned as the champion for the first time, thanks to goals scored by legendary player Julio Libonatti.

Uruguay winner of 1920 South American Championship
The 1920 South American Championship of Nations was held in Valparaíso, Chile from September 11 to October 3, 1920. Uruguay regained the title lost in the last edition.

The Uruguayans continued to dominate the tournament in the subsequent years but not without stiff competition from Argentina. The tournament gained popularity around the world and attracted more teams with Bolivia and Peru joining in 1926 and 1927 respectively.

The tournament sailed smoothly, year after year until the first World Cup tournament in 1930. There was intensified rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay Football Federations that led to the cancellation of contests for some years. In 1939, a brand new edition of the tournament was reinstated after conflict resolution and Peru won the title. Ecuardo made their debut at this point, increasing the number of teams to seven.

Copa America

The tournament thereafter encountered a lot of disruption and was not regularly played as expected. It also experienced a major blow after the formation of Copa Libertadores in 1959. In 1975, the events were resumed, and it was officially branded as Copa America .At this point, the tournament had no fixed venues and matches were played in each country throughout the year. The grand tournament would then be played after every four years.


In 1986, CONMEBOL resolved to return to the initial system whereby each country would host the tournament and contest every year. This renewal brought stability and saw the tournament begin television coverage in Europe and North America. This was a major development to reckon with.

The current tournament format which was established in 1993 involves twelve teams, four teams in three groups, that compete in a host country for one month. However, since the Confederation consists of only ten members, other FIFA confederation teams are invited to fill the spaces. Only five teams from CONCACAF and one team from AFC have had the privilege to participate in these tournaments since 1993 through 2015.

Copa America has evolved a long way to becoming one the world's most prestigious tournaments today. Out of 44 tournaments held since its formation in 1916, eight of the ten members have won the title except Venezuela and Ecuardo. Uruguay has dominated the title having been the champions for fifteen times. The current champion is Chile.

The scope

Copa America was mainly founded as a South American tournament team. However, due to to the limited number of registered confederations, other team members from other continents are usually invited in a bid to make up the twelve required teams. The invitation is however limited to members who share geographical and cultural similarities. These include Mexico, Jamaica, United States among others.

The Federation is made up of ten official members. Uruguay has remained top on the list by being crowned the champion for fifteen times and followed by Argentina triumphing eight times. Other teams include Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia,Ecuardo,Venezuela and Colombia. Other member teams from CONCACAF are always invited to fill the spaces with Mexico having reported the most appearances so far. In 44 tournaments since 1916, eight of the ten CONMEBOL national teams have won the title, with only Ecuador and Venezuela yet to win. Uruguay has the most championships, with 15, while the current champion is Chile.

Copa America tournament format

Copa America trophy
Two trophies are awarded at the end of the competition: the Copa América is given to the winner, while the Copa Bolivia is awarded to the runner-up. The picture above is for the winner.

The recent format involves twelve national teams. There are two stages in the tournament. The first stage is the group stage whereby teams compete within three groups of four teams each. The groups are formulated through FIFA world rankings regulations.

The top two teams from each group as well as the two third best teams then proceed to the knock-out stage. Points are used to rank the teams with three points being awarded for a win, one for draw and zero points for a loss. Besides the goal difference, the number of goals scored are also used in the ranking of the teams.

In the knock-out stage, the teams play each other in one-off matches. Penalties are also used to decide the winner in case of a draw after ninety minutes in the semi-finals and quarter- finals or after extra minutes in finals.


At the end of the Copa America tournament, two trophies will be awarded. The tournament champion will be given the Copa America trophy which has a silver ornament that contain several plaques with a wooden base, engraved with every winner of the competition. The runner-up will be given the Copa Bolivia trophy.