The Socceroos have an opportunity to test themselves against South American footballing powerhouses in their own back yard. (AP: Kamran Jebreili)
The Socceroos have been invited to take part in the 2020 edition of South America’s continental football championships, the Copa America.
- The Copa America is the South American continental football championships
- The Socceroos are set to become the third team invited to the tournament from Asia
- Asian Cup champions Qatar will play in both the 2019 and 2020 tournaments
Current Asian Cup champions Qatar will join the Socceroos as the second guest participant, meaning the two most recent Asian champions will be represented.
The South American football confederation, CONMEBOL said that Australia and Qatar will join the ten South American teams in the tournament, which will be co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia after a council meeting in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.
One of the guest nations will be pitted in the northern group with Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and joint-hosts Colombia.
The other will join Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile and group-hosts Argentina.
The Socceroos could come up against footballing giants Lionel Messi of Argentina and Brazil’s Neymar. (AP/Reuters)
Four teams from each six-team group will progress to the quarter-finals.
Qatar is currently preparing to take part in its first Copa America, which kicks off in Brazil this weekend, along with fellow Asian Cup finalists, Japan.
Prior to the Socceroos recent friendly against South Korea earlier this month, head coach Graham Arnold was excited about the opportunity.
“It’s really [an] exciting opportunity, not only [for] myself and the players but for the country,” Arnold told the AAP.
“It’s something that would be absolutely fantastic for the players and the nation.
“Players [who] get the opportunity to play in those type of games and those type of tournaments … go up to another level.
“And when they go to another level, they go to a bigger stage at club-land so it’s a great opportunity for everyone.”
Why are Asian teams playing in the South American championships?
Simply put, to make up the numbers.
With only 10 countries in the South American confederation, teams have been invited from outside the continent to facilitate an easier draw since 1993.
Invites have often been sent to teams that are geographically and culturally similar, with Mexico competing in each of the 10 tournaments between 1993 and 2016.
Costa Rica (five appearances), the United States (four) and Jamaica have also been repeat invitees, along with four other teams from the neighbouring CONCACAF (North and Central America) zone.
Japan was the first team from Asia to be invited when it participated in the 1999 tournament in Paraguay, followed by its invitation this year alongside Qatar.
The scheduling of this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup at the same time as the Copa America meant that CONMEBOL was forced to cast its net further afield.
So what happens if a guest nation wins?
The somewhat thorny issue of a team from outside South America winning the South American continental tournament has not had to be confronted, yet.
However, it has been a close run thing.
Mexico has reached the final in 1993 and 2001 — losing on both occasions — with the USA and Honduras also making the semi-finals in their guest appearances.
If Qatar wins on its debut this season, it will be the first country to ever hold continental titles simultaneously.
The Socceroos meanwhile has the opportunity to claim a third separate continental title to go alongside the 2015 Asian Cup and four OFC Nations Cup titles won in 1980, 1996, 2000 and 2004.
The Copa America is the oldest international continental football competition, first taking place in 1916.
The reigning champions are Chile, who won its second title 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw with Argentina in 2016.