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Atlanta to host '24 Copa opener, Miami gets final

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Published in Soccer
Monday, 20 November 2023 12:59

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was awarded the 2024 Copa América opener and South Florida's Hard Rock Stadium will host the final of the tournament, held outside of its home continent for only the second time

A joint announcement was made Monday by soccer's governing bodies of South America and of North and Central America and the Caribbean. Other sites and the schedule for the 16-team tournament were not revealed.

The tournament is set to begin on June 20 at 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Major League Soccer's Atlanta United has set numerous attendance records. Defending Copa América champion Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, will presumably be one of the teams taking part in the opener.

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The retractable-roof stadium near downtown Atlanta, which opened in 2017, will install a grass field over its artificial playing surface for the tournament.

Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens already has a Bermuda grass field and seats about 65,000 after a $500 million renovation that included installation of a roof above seating areas. The 36-year-old home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins will host the July 14 final.

If Argentina advances to the championship game, it would give Messi a chance to play in the same market as his current MLS team, Inter Miami.

"We expect stadiums filled with the passion of the entire American continent for the inauguration and the final," Alejandro Dominguez, president of the South American governing body CONMEBOL. said in a statement.

Both stadiums have been selected as sites for the 2026 World Cup, to be played in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

"The cities have passionate sports and football fans renowned for getting behind major events," Victor Montagliani, president of the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football, said in a statement.

Copa América is expanding this season, with six teams from North America joining the usual 10 nations from South America that compete for the continental championship. It mirrors a special tournament that was held in 2016 in the United States to mark the centennial of the event -- the only previous time it was staged outside of South America.

The draw will be Dec. 7 in Miami.

Neither Miami nor Atlanta was involved in Copa América Centenario, which was held at 10 venues: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey; Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; NRG Stadium in Houston; Soldier Field in Chicago; Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida; Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California; CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle; State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona; and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

The 2016 opener was held at Levi's Stadium in the San Francisco Bay area, while the final won by Chile over Argentina on penalty kicks -- Messi memorably left the field in tears after putting his attempt over the crossbar -- was played at MetLife Stadium in suburban New York City.

Both of those stadiums have been selected as 2026 World Cup sites, along with Gillette Stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, NRG Stadium and CenturyLink Stadium, making them strong candidates to also host Copa América games. The other U.S. World Cup sites are AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas; SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

Except for the Centenario tournament, Copa América hosting duties usually have rotated among the 10 COMNEBOL nations in South America. The arrangement called for Ecuador to host in 2024, but that country backed out because of security issues.

All 10 South American national teams compete in the quadrennial tournament, and two guest teams have been invited to most of the tournaments since 1993.

For the 2024 edition, the CONMEBOL regulars will be joined by six CONCACAF qualifiers, comprised of the four quarterfinal winners in the Nations League and two play-in teams from the quarterfinal losers.

The two-legged quarters began last week. The United States, which was not guaranteed a spot in Copa América despite its hosting duties, defeated Trinidad and Tobago 3-0 in Austin, Texas, to gain a commanding aggregate edge heading into the second leg Monday night in Port-of- Spain.

In the other opening-leg matches, Honduras stunned Mexico 2-0, Canada won at Jamaica 2-1, and Panama routed Costa Rica 3-0. The second leg of Panama-Costa Rica was set for Monday night, while the other two quarterfinal games are scheduled for Tuesday.

The Nations League semifinals and finals will be held in March at AT&T Stadium.

Atlanta and Miami figure to be in the mix, as well, for another major tournament scheduled in the U.S. ahead of the World Cup.

The FIFA Club World Cup will expand from seven to 32 teams for its 2025 edition, which will be played in June and July instead of its previous winter spot on the calendar. The sites for that event are expected to be announced next year.

Teams that have already qualified for the 2025 Club World Cup include Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Seattle Sounders FC, Palmerias, Flamengo, Fluminense, Monterrey and León.

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