The Copa America Centenario may have been playing second fiddle to Euro 2016 to some extent, but the anniversary tournament in the USA has still had plenty of thrilling moments.
Brazil’s shock first round exit to Peru, complete with blatant handball robbery and Dunga’s sacking, was one of the biggest events in recent Copa history. The USA’s run to the semi-finals, bouncing back from a chastening defeat to Colombia, has brought the home fans into the tournament more and more as it has gone along.
It’s hard not to feel, though, that a little bit of the magic has been lost from the move north of the equator. Soccer is growing in the USA and American fans offer some of the most fervent supporter to their national side of anyone in the world.
But, still, there have been an awful lot of empty seats for a major international tournament. The hosts’ quarter final victory over Ecuador in Seattle was played in front of a very loud crowd. But only half of one – around 25,000 seats at CenturyLink Field were left vacant.
— Don Ruiz (@donruiztnt) June 4, 2016
The situation has been worse for games not involving the hosts or the massively supported Mexico. Another game in Seattle, between Haiti and Peru, was played to banks of empty seats and a crowd of little over 20,000. When compared to the packed stadia watching Euro 2016 across the Atlantic in France, the difference is stark.
It is not just the empty seats that have taken away from the tournament, though – watching the Copa America in modern, American stadia is a huge leap from the more ramshackle, atmospheric surrounds of South American football arenas.
The Estadio Nacional in Santiago, where last year’s final between Chile and Argentina was played, may not be a modern, comfortable ground and has a dark past to match its nation’s, but it represented the soul of South American football.
Moving the tournament to the USA may have brought more money in to the federation and given a glimpse of the South American game to a whole new audience, but talk of moving the competition there permanently is ridiculous. It would ruin everything that is great about this tournament.