Spain In Copa America? What The Heck!

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) received a letter that contained a very special invitation: the chance for Spain to play in the Copa America, to be held in Argentina in July 2011. And yes, you did read that right: Spain - the European champion - was invited to play in the Copa America, the American championship.

No wonder even Leo Messi was moved to have an opinion. "It's surprising because Spain has nothing to do with this Copa," he said,

The Copa America involves 10 countries from the South American Football Confederation plus Mexico and one guest. That last invitee is Japan, which could pull out after the recent earthquake, creating an opportunity for Spain. Japan still has 10 days to make a final decision, so the invitation to Spain might be withdrawn. But for now, it is being taken seriously.

"We've not ruled it out. I always consider things that are presented with love and affection. I think it is an honor - and as president I am in favor of going," RFEF president Angel María Villar said.

The suggestion that Spain might participate in the Copa America is almost impossible to understand, whichever way you look at it and no matter whose perspective you adopt. It is an absurd, unnatural, counterproductive and impractical idea, where even the advantages come laced with disadvantage. And it might prove to be hugely embarrassing, too.

Not just because Spain is not in the Americas - which, after all, is supposed to be the point of the Copa America, a competition where the clue is in the name. After all, Japan isn't either. And although Japan's inclusion is also striking and frankly silly, this is even worse, a step toward completely undermining the very nature of international competitions. Not least because Spain would immediately be installed as (one of) the favorites. Spain, champions of America? What next? Barcelona, Scottish Cup winners? What would be the point of the competition?

The proposal might not yet happen, but it is hard to believe it even got this far. Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona has spoken to Villar and the two are powerful allies who have been in their posts for long. They will work for this to get the go-ahead. But even for them, this seems nonsensical on all levels but one, cash.

And why did the participating countries allow it? Even if you can just about understand it when it is a country like Japan that probably won't win the competition, won't get in anyone's way and helps to make up the numbers, why invite a country that can win it? Why invite a country that shouldn't be there anyway to come and play in a tournament, instantly damaging your chances? How must Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia feel? Getting out of their group suddenly would get much harder. As for Argentina and Brazil, the favorites, winning the competition - their competition, not Spain's - would be far more difficult.

The stock answer is obvious: to strengthen the tournament, to give it prestige. For both Brazil and Argentina, the opportunity to beat the world champions is an attractive one. By having Spain there, this becomes a kind of surrogate World Cup. It offers up the clash that South Africa didn't: Brazil-Spain, or Argentina-Spain.

Only it doesn't, not really. "Surrogate" is the word. There will be no reclaiming the World Cup, and winning the Copa America is big enough anyway. It is what it says it is: a tournament for the best footballing nations in the Americas - some of the best in the world. If Spain doesn't end up going, no one will turn to the winners and say, "Yeah, but Spain wasn't there." Look at it the other way around: Would UEFA or its members countenance an invitee at the European Championships? Of course not. It would make a mockery of the competition.

Some have said that the initiation gives the tournament prestige, but does Spain's inclusion really do that? Doesn't it rather say: "We didn't have enough decent countries of our own, so we had to get some ringers in"? Doesn't it say: "Hey, we might not be that good, but don't worry, we're inviting someone who is"? Doesn't it look a bit desperate, like the geeks who try desperately to persuade the class hottie to come to their party? Doesn't it undermine the significance of the South Americans? And if Spain actually wins the tournament, how do you explain that you can't even win your own competition?

So much for prestige. Sigh!

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