Copa América Centenario: History

Written by Leonard Giarrano

30 April 2016

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Page Overview







My page’s content is organized into three sections: Organizing Confederations; Tournament History 1916-2016; and Fun Statistics, Famous Goals, and Records. Under the first heading is background on the international governance of football followed by descriptions of CONMEBOL, the international football confederation that oversees the Copa América, as well as CONCACAF because of its participation in tournaments held since 1993. The second section walks through a history of the Copa América tournament, with emphasis placed on the tournament’s origins; changes made over its long 100-year, 45-tournament history; its current format and structure; and the special celebration of its centenary with the 2016 Centenario.


Organizing Confederations








FIFA comprises six continental confederations and recognizes 209 different national associations, each with a men’s national team, along with 129 women’s national teams. Interestingly enough, FIFA has more member states than the UN because 23 non-sovereign entities are members. FIFA’s six confederations are CONCACAF and CONMEBOL roughly covering North and South America, UEFA in Europe and parts of the Middle East and Asia, CAF in Africa, AFC in Asia and parts of Oceania, and the OFC in Oceania.

The duty of each of these continental governing bodies is to organize competitions between member national and club teams as well as work with FIFA to conduct any qualifying tournaments for the World Cup. The Copa América in particular is organized every two to four years by the international football confederation CONMEBOL.








The Confederación Sudaméricana de Fútbol was founded in 1916 by participants in the first Copa América to facilitate the tournament’s organization. It is the oldest continental football confederation—though it has the fewest members of any FIFA confederation at 10—and governs South American football with headquarters in Paraguay. Because of the success of its teams in the FIFA World Cup, Intercontinental Cups, and Olympics, it is considered one of the strongest confederations. Because of the concentration of quality teams among its 10 members, qualification for the World Cup is particularly difficult, and the national teams play friendlies more frequently against high quality teams. Beyond the Copa América, CONMEBOL has also organized the Copa Libertadores de América for club teams of its members since 1960. The Copa Libertadores is among the most prestigious club competitions in the world due to the strength of South American club players.









Founded in 1961 from the combination of the now defunct North American Football Confederation (NAFC) and the Confederación Centroaméricana y del Caribe de Fútbol (CCCF), the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is the highest governing body for football in North America and the Caribbean, though the confederation also includes three South American teams. [10]

Tournament History: 1916-2016 [13-19]

Founded in 1916, the Copa América, originally named the South American Championship, determines the football champion of South America. The 2016 competition marks its centenary and 45th competition. In this section, I will give historical overviews of significant tournaments as well as scattered changes to the tournament’s format, composition, and size.

The tournament traces its roots to a competition played in 1910 and organized by Argentina’s national football association. Football’s explosive popularity in South America and the world by the early twentieth century led the Argentine Football Association, only 17 years old at the time, to organize the first competition that would pit more than two national teams of a continent against one another, though CONMEBOL does not recognize this tournament between Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile as an official Copa América. Dubbed at the time as the Copa Centenario Revolución de Mayo to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Argentina’s independence, the tournament resulted in an Argentinian victory after dominating 5-1 and 4-1 matches.

In 1916, the first CONMEBOL-recognized tournament was held in Argentina across two weeks in July. This competition actually precedes the formation of CONMEBOL. The confederation was founded by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay at the suggestion of Uruguay’s football association during the 2016 tournament and was established on July 9 to commemorate Argentina’s independence day. For this first tournament, no qualifying matches were held and the four teams played in a round-robin format, similar to how World Cup group stages are played. Each team played one game against each of the other three teams, earning two points for a victory, one for a draw, and zero for any losses. This format persisted for the first 50 years of the tournament though the number of participants changed from year to year.

The South American Championship went on to be played on a mostly biannual basis until 1929. A six-year gap in tournaments happened when Argentina fell out with Uruguay after a contentious 1930 final of the first FIFA World Cup when tensions escalated out of control between the two sides over the ball used in the final. Due to this strife, the thirteenth South American Championship was not organized until 1935. [12]

After the reestablishment of the tournament however, CONMEBOL continued to successfully organize it, alternating between gap periods of one, two, and three years. The notable exception to this comes in the tournament’s 26th and 27th iterations. Both in 1959, these two championships are the only ones to have been held in the same year. Argentina hosted the first in the springtime, and Ecuador held the second later on in December. The reason for this doubling up is unclear. The availability of players and conflicts with other tournaments seems to not have been the issue since four of the five teams to play in Ecuador’s championship played earlier in the Argentinian tournament. [6-7]

Beyond this aberration in scheduling, the size of the tournament remained relatively constant for its first half-century of playing. For the four tournaments between 1916 and 1921, four national squads competed to be the best in South America. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay competed in each of the first four during this period with Paraguay replacing Chile in the 1921 competition. In 1922, both Chile and Paraguay played to bring the number of participants up to five before it returned to four in 1923 and 1924. From then, the number of participants fluctuated from year to year, dipping to a low of three in 1925 when Chile and Uruguay both inexplicably withdrew from the tournament. Otherwise between the 1920s and the 1967 competition, the number of participants fluctuated between four and seven before stabilizing in 1975.

The 1975 tournament marked a turning point in the history of the Copa América. CONMEBOL renamed the tournament from the South American Championship to the Copa América. [11] For the first time, all 10 of CONMEBOL’s member nations played in the tournament, a size that continued until the tournament’s expansion in 1993. Additionally, the tournament committed to its shift away from the round-robin format it had used since its inaugural competition in 1916, though the 1963 tournament singularly featured a qualifying round to eliminate two teams to form an elimination field of five. Finally between 1975 and 1983, the tournament was not hosted by a single nation. Instead, teams moved between several countries for three tournaments, playing games at home and away. This ended in 1987 when the tournament returned to being hosted by one participating country.

The most recent shake-up of the tournament came in 1993 when its competitive format changed and participation was opened to members of CONCACAF via invitations. With this, its 37th tournament, the Copa América adopted its current format wherein 12 teams compete over one month in three four-team groups playing round-robin tournaments, as in the World Cup, before top teams moved to an elimination bracket. Because the 12-team format requires more national teams than CONMEBOL actually has members, the tournament began inviting two teams from other confederations to play in the tournament. CONCACAF teams are most frequently invited due to geographic convenience and cultural ties, but Japan notably received an invitation in 1999 and 2011 to compete, as did Spain in 2011.

The only exception to the 1993 structure so far is the Centenario tournament, which features a field expanded to 16 teams that allows six CONCACAF teams to play alongside the 10 members of CONMEBOL. This expansion may be a permanent change but is more likely to be due to the hosting of the tournament in the United States, a CONCACAF member, and the special occasion of the centenary.

The 2016 Copa América Centenario brings us to present day. Covering 100 years of the oldest international football competition, the Copa América’s history reveals a tournament that was very much in flux in its middle years after it broke from its original structure but that has largely stabilized since 1993. The national teams are that compete in it are some of the best and most storied in the world, producing legends like Pele and Lionel Messi.

Fun Statistics, Famous Goals, and Records

2016 by the Numbers [2]

100 years: The Copa América Centenario, at 100 years from its creation in 1916, is the oldest international continental football competition, surpassing the FIFA World Cup, founded in 1930, by 14 years. Other significant national team competitions include the AFC Asian Cup (1956, 60), African Cup of Nations (1957, 59), UEFA European Championship (1960, 56), CONCACAF Gold Cup (1961, 55), and Arab Cup of Nations (1963, 53).

32 matches will be played between June 3rd and 26th.

16 teams will compete.

  • Four countries (the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama) are located in North America.
  • The two national teams coming from the Caribbean are from Jamaica and Haiti.
  • 10 teams (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela) are part of the CONMEBOL confederation and consequently are all located in South America.

10 American cities, each with stadiums that can hold more than 50,000 spectators, will host matches. They are Santa Clara, Seattle, Pasadena, Glendale, Houston, Chicago, Orlando, Philadelphia, East Rutherford, and Foxborough.

3 CONMEBOL members (Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela) have never won the tournament in 100 years, with Chile and Ecuador having previously been hosts. [5]

2 confederations, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, supply teams to the tournament.

0 times has the Copa América been hosted outside of South America before this year.

Famous Goals [5]

In 1975, Peru’s Juan Carolis Oblitas scored with a sweet bicycle kick.

In 1989, Brazil’s Bebeto scored an acrobatic goal on home soil.

Across just three tournaments, Gabriel Batistuta scored 14 goals, with six in the 1991 cup when only one other player scored more than three. [8] [9]

In 1999 and 2007, Brazil’s Alex and Argentina’s Javier Mascherano, respectively, scored two bullets of goals.


Argentina and Uruguay share the record for most tournament wins with 15 apiece out of the 45 tournaments played since its inception. Uruguay won most recently in 2011, while Argentina has not won since 1993. In the first 20 tournaments between 1916 and 1947, the two countries combined for 17 wins with Brazil taking two and Peru one other win. Since then, a split 12 of 24 tournaments have been won by countries other than Argentina and Uruguay. [3]

Coming in long second, Brazil has won the tournament 8 times with back-back wins in 2004 and 2007 as well as 1997 and 1999. Brazil is also the only country besides Argentina and Uruguay with back-to-back wins. [3]

Only thrice have Argentina and Uruguay been both absent from the top four teams. In no tournament since 1916 have all three of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay been absent from the top four. In fact, the three countries combine for 30 runner-up placements, and Brazil and Uruguay have never lost the tournament as hosts. [4]

How to Cite this Page

Giarrano, Leonard. “Copa América Centenario: History.” Soccer Politics. N.p., 1 May 2016. Web. <>.

Works Cited

[1] Non-free logo use rational: This is a logo for Copa América Centenario. The logo may be obtained from Copa América Centenario. The entire logo is used to convey the meaning intended and avoid tarnishing or misrepresenting the intended image. The logo is of a size and resolution sufficient to maintain the quality intended by the company or organization, without being unnecessarily high resolution. The image is placed at the top of the article discussing Copa América Centenario, a subject of public interest. The significance of the logo is to help the reader identify the organization, assure the readers that they have reached the right article containing critical commentary about the organization, and illustrate the organization’s intended branding message in a way that words alone could not convey. Because it is a non-free logo, there is almost certainly no free representation. Any substitute that is not a derivative work would fail to convey the meaning intended, would tarnish or misrepresent its image, or would fail its purpose of identification or commentary. Use of the logo in the article complies with fair use under United States copyright law.

[2] “COPA America Centenario | USA 2016.” COPA America Centenario | USA 2016. CONMEBOL, n.d. Web. <>.

[3] “Copa America Complete History –” N.p., 01 May 2016. Web. <>.

[4] Bishop, Jordan. “The History of Copa América Centenario.” Orlando City Soccer Club. N.p., 24 Nov. 2015. Web. <>.

[5] Diallo, Raf. “A Potted History of the Copa America.” Newstalk. N.p., 9 June 2015. Web. <>.

[6] “1959 South American Championship (Argentina).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[7] “1963 South American Championship.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[8] “List of International Goals Scored by Gabriel Batistuta.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[9] “1991 Copa América.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[10] “Teams.” CONCACAF Teams. CONCACAF, n.d. Web. <>.

[11] “1975 Copa América.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[12] Parkes, Dustin. “What Happened at the 1930 World Cup?” The Score, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. <>.

[13] “Copa America: Format and Rules.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[14] “Copa América Centenario.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[15] “CONMEBOL: History.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. <>.

[16] Murray, Scott. “A Brief History of … the Copa América, the Tournament with a Special Kind of Beauty.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 June 2015. Web. <>.

[17] Bolaños, Eduardo. “The History of the Copa America Tournament.” CONMEBOL, 12 May 2015. Web. <>.

[18] “History of the Birth to the Creation of the Football Copa America.” History of Football Copa America. Foot Forever, n.d. Web. <>.

[19] Vilchis, Raúl. “A History of Copa América, the Oldest Fútbol Tournament on the Planet.” Remezcla. RE MEZCLA, 11 June 2015. Web. <>.