By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The troika running the Copa America Centenario proclaimed the soccer tournament a rousing success on Friday heading into the final weekend of the special event hosted by the U.S., but would not commit to a regular arrangement.
The 100th anniversary of the world’s oldest international soccer tournament was a cooperative effort between South American confederation CONMEBOL, and CONCACAF, representing North America, Central America and the Caribbean, with U.S. Soccer organizing the competition.
“We were able to bring whole continents together,” CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez told a Manhattan news conference through an interpreter.
“Fair play, good games, an average of almost three goals per match, very good behavior by the public … integrating cultures for people to live together and respect diversity.”
Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer president and head of the Local Organising Committee, pointed with pride to the massive average turnout of 46,000 per game, nearly 1.5 million in all.
“What I said at the start of the tournament was our base line was at 30,000 (per game). We thought 35,000 would be great, 40 would be beyond our wildest expectations and obviously where we ended up is fantastic.
“These are World Cup numbers for an event organized in seven months with 16 teams,” Gulati said.
Dominguez said “from any point of view it has been a success” and that he was open to new ideas about further collaborations.
Victor Montagliani, president of CONCACAF, said: “We are open to discussions moving forward but it’s not something we’ve been able to sit down and talk about in a concrete way.”
The 16-team tournament climaxes with a Sunday final between world number one ranked Argentina and fifth-ranked defending champions Chile at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey across the Hudson River from New York City.
The third-place match between the United States and Colombia takes place in Phoenix on Saturday.
Gulati pointed out obstacles to making an ongoing commitment to a competition between the confederations.
“The regular Copa America is not a protected competition on the international calendar for the non-CONMEBOL teams. For the CONCACAF teams, we can’t have a mandatory release of our players,” he said.
“And with about half our team playing in Europe we can’t get our players. And it’s also during our league in the United States. And in some years it’s played in the same year as our (CONCACAF) Gold Cup.
“It’s very difficult to go to such a strong competition without our best team.”
Gulati, however, lit upon a tongue-in-cheek idea for a new international competition, referencing the backlash to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union.
“Victor (Montagliani) and I actually kicked around an idea this morning of 10 teams from CONMEBOL, 10 teams from CONCACAF and the four British teams who are now apparently looking for a place to play.
“It could be an interesting 24-team tournament to rival the Euro.”
Dominguez had a more concrete vision, saying: “We have challenged UEFA to play one game this year, bringing together the winners of the Copa America Centenario and the winners of the Euro 2016.
“We are waiting for that answer. They are studying our offer.”
(Editing by Rex Gowar)