By Canberk Yuksel
NEW YORK (AA) – The stage is set for what promises to be a spectacular panorama of the beautiful game for an increasing number of football fans in the United States as the Copa America tournament kicks off Friday in California.
After the final whistle of the last friendly between Mexico and Chile on Thursday, commentated emphatically on Copa America's Twitter account, the highly-anticipated continental version of the sporting event will spring to life at 9.30 p.m. ET (GMT0130) at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara pitting host country USA against Colombia, a formidable competitor given the world rankings difference of 29 to 4, respectively.
The Copa America Centenario, to be held June 3 - 26 at 10 venues across the U.S., will be the first time the tournament is being played outside South America and marks the 100th anniversary of the competition that began in 1916.
The tournament brings together some of the finest football players dominating the major leagues around the world.
The home fans have rsted their hopes squarely in the legs of forward Clint Dempsey, described by the website of Major League Soccer – the top-tier football league in the country -- as "one of the most celebrated American soccer players of all-time.”
Another home team favorite is goal keeper Tim Howard, whose heroics against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup second-round game resonated with football fans around the world.
The Everton goalkeeper set a new record by making 15 saves in a losing effort but inspired Internet memes depicting the 39-year-old as stopping dinosaur extinction by saving the world from meteorites.
Fans will take delight in watching Lionel Messi, considered one of the greatest football players of all time, as he tries to chart a secure course to the finals and, perhaps the trophy, for his Argentine team.
Argentina’s national team, La Albiceleste, or "the white and sky blue", top-ranked in the world as of June 2, is coming into the tournament as a strong contender for championship.
The team’s relentless climb to the finals in 2014 World Cup made for a spectacular match-up against an imposing German side that went on to win, not unexpectedly after its total dismantling of the Brazilian host in the unforgettable -- or nightmarish, if you were wearing yellow and green -- semifinals match that ended 7-1.
Colombia’s Edwin Cardona, Alexis Sanchez of Chile, Brazil’s Hulk and Luis Suarez from Uruguay, among others, will also be on the radar for memorable performances.
This year's Copa America, pitting 16 teams against each other in a round-robin group stage and three finals stages, will be a special edition diverting from the usual four-year cycle of the tournament.
The organization came about as a result of cooperation between the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) aimed at celebrating the latter's hundredth anniversary. The last regular Copa America was held last year, won by Chile.
The tournament’s schedule will clash with UEFA EURO 2016, which will be held June 10-July 10.
Just more of a good thing for fans of the beautiful game.