LONDON – Brazil and Argentina. Argentina and Brazil. A final. The Final. The final of all finals, in fact. Everyone's ready. Messi will shine. Unless Neymar outshines him first. We're all set. Strapped in and ready for the big showdown on July 24 when El Monumental hosts two giants of international football.
That is, if the bookmakers are anything to go by - and, to be brutally honest, they invariably are. But not everyone is as callous and unromantic as us, the public, or them, the bookies. Not everyone wants nothing else than to repeatedly see the biggest game in the world ever unfold on our laptops and television screens.
And this month, as Mano Menezes and Checho Batista begin their gallop around Argentina's provincial cities, they might just be peering over their shoulders a little more than the average punter might think.
No other country has appeared in more Copa Americas than Uruguay, and nobody has returned with the title more then they have. But with a population of just three million people, the perennial overachievers will forever be referred to 'dark horses.' One advantage they have over the two favourites this year, however, is that of continuity. While both Argentina and Brazil are undergoing a period of transition following their changes of coach, Uruguay require only minor tweaks required from Oscar Tabarez. Of the eleven that faced Estonia this past Friday, nine kicked off their third place play-off against Germany a year ago.
Goalkeeper is the only position that continues to pose a problem, with first choice Fernando Muslera continuing to look uneasy behind an otherwise solid defense. "I have to see if I have better solutions," admitted Tabarez earlier this year. Juan Castillo's wretched performance during a 2-0 defeat to Estonia in March, a lack of faith in Martin Silva, and the overlooking of Penarol's Sebastian Sosa despite an impressive Copa Libertadores campaign, means he's yet to find any.
With the indefatigable Diego Perez and Arevalo Rios shepherding the midfield, Tabarez has a solid unit on which to spring his attacks, but the lack of a ball playing midfielder may be a slight cause for concern. Young playmaker Gaston Ramirez has enjoyed a good start to life Serie A with Bologna, but the youngster failed to make the final 23. A similarly gifted midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro did the make the cut but will likely have to settle for a peripheral role. Diego Forlan will drift between the lines to link the play, sitting just behind Luiz Suarez and Edinson Cavani in what is a formidable front three.
Tabarez has talked down suggestions that his side are real contenders, but warned the rest of the continent that his team "are going to fight, just like we did at the World Cup." If they do, then they look well worth a punt at as high as 13/1 with some bookmakers.
Chile, too, will consider itself capable of an upset. Claudio Borghi was faced with an impossible act to follow when succeeding Marcelo Bielsa as Chile coach in February, but the former Boca coach knows the terrain having successfully coached a number of the current squad during a successful stint with Colo Colo. Having inherited one of the most talented Chile squads in recent memory, La Roja (The Reds) come into Copa America 2011 high on confidence and can rely on one of Europe's most wanted in Udinese star Alexis Sanchez.
Key to their chances will be the fitness of Humberto Suazo. The Monterrey striker arrives in Argentina in fine form after helping his club to the CONCACAF Champions League and his ability to find the net could prove vital. Aturo Vidal and Gary Medel will provide steel to the midfield while Matias Fernandez has looked sharp in the playmaker role. Jorge Valdivia, and the return of Luis Jimenez to the international fold, provides Borghi with a wealth of creativity available to slot in behind Sanchez and Suazo. With two matches in Mendoza, just a short hop across the boarder from Santiago, they can expect a large contingent of travelling supporters to cheer them on and if Borghi can get the balance right, and Suazo can stay fit, then even a second place finish in Group C behind Uruguay could provide Chile a favourable route to the semifinals.
Paraguay is also intent on building upon successful World Cup campaign. Having finally made it to the quarterfinals of the competition for the time in its history last year and Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino can take confidence in the stability of his side. However, with their typically erratic friendly showings over the last 12 months, it's tough to know exactly how far things have progressed since South Africa 2010. Organised and flexible, Paraguay's biggest problem continues to be the space between the forwards and its midfield - an issue that hasn't been sufficiently addressed since the tragic shooting of Salvador Cabanas. Sunderland's Christian Riveros is a goal-threat and times his late runs into the box expertly, but he isn't the sort of player to dictate the tempo and create for those ahead of him. Martino has handed a call-up to Osvaldo Martinez, who does cut a figure capable of the job, however how many minutes he gets remains to be seen.
Argentinian-born Lucas Barrios will spearhead the attack following a hugely productive campaign with Borussia Dortmund, and will be well supported by the vigorous Nelson Valdez. Manchester City's Roque Santa Cruz has a lot to prove after a disappointing season. One omission that has been greeted with a certain level of surprise is that of Benfica's Oscar Cardozo, but while prolific in Portugal the big center forward has repeatedly failed to impress for his national side. "We are trying to reach the final," said Martinez this week. "We'll go there to win."
Rupert Fryer is the co-founder and editor of SouthAmericanFootball.co.uk . You can follow him on Twitter at @Rupert_Fryer .