The Copa America kicks off this weekend when hosts Brazil take on Bolivia. Here, RT Sport brings you all you need to know about the South American football extravaganza – including why Japan and Qatar are taking part.

Hosts Brazil start proceedings against Bolivia in their Group A match at Estadio Cicero Pompeu de Toledo (commonly known as Estadio do Morumbi) in Sao Paulo on Saturday, June 15.

That game is followed by Venezuela versus Peru in the same group later that day at Arena do Gremio.

HOW MANY TEAMS ARE PLAYING?

Twelve teams from two confederations – the South American CONMEBOL and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – are taking part.

The 12 teams have been divided into three groups:

  • Group A: Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela
  • Group B: Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Qatar
  • Group C: Chile, Ecuador, Japan, Uruguay

The full fixtures list for the 26 matches can be found on the CONMEBOL website.

Read more:   Azerbaijan, Turkey may create JVs in agriculture

The winners and runners-up from each group automatically advance to the knockout stage, as do the two best-placed teams who finish third.

The legendary Maracana is among stadiums that will be hosting games. © Reuters / Sergio Moraes

Matches will be played in five cities: Salvador (Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova), Rio de Janiero (Estadio do Maracana), Sao Paulo (Estadio do Morumbi, Arena Corinthians), Belo Horizonte (Estadio Mineirao) and Porto Alegre (Arena do Gremio).

The tournament is returning to Brazil for the first time in 30 years, and on every previous occasion the Samba Boys have won the tournament (1989, 1949, 1922, 1919).

WHY ARE JAPAN AND QATAR PLAYING?

AFC nations Japan and Qatar are playing as guests at the tournament. They have been invited to fill spots in the tournament to ensure there are enough teams to allow a 12-team tournament.

Qatar were crowned Asian champions in February. © Reuters / Suhaib Salem

Previously, CONMEBOL has invited nations from outside the confederation (which has 10 countries), including in 2016 when they invited teams from Asia and North America to make up a 16-team centenary edition of the event.

Read more:   Trump says close to doing something with China on trade

This time, CONMEBOL has decided to revert to the 12-team version in place since 1993, and invited Japan and World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar – both finalists in the most recent AFC Asian Cup.

WHO ARE THE REIGNING CHAMPIONS?

This will be the 46th edition of the Copa America, and the tournament has been won on the past two occasions by Chile, who have beaten Argentina on penalties both times.

Chile won the last edition of the event in 2016, beating Argentina on penalties in the final in New York. © AFP / Omar Torres

Uruguay lead the way on overall titles with 15, followed by Argentina on 14 and Brazil on eight.

The last time Argentina won the competition was back in 1993 in Ecuador, while Uruguay last triumphed in 2011.

Read more:   Recriminations after Germany beaten 3-0 by Netherlands as woeful year continues

WHO ARE THE FAVORITES?

Hosts Brazil are seen as the favorites to win this year’s competition, followed by Argentina and then Uruguay.

Tite’s Brazil are favorites to win on home soil. © Reuters / Henry Romero

Outside those three, Colombia and reigning champions Chile will be backed.

HAS MESSI EVER WON THE COPA AMERICA?

Argentine skipper Lionel Messi will lead his team at this year’s tournament after taking a break from international football following the World Cup in Russia last summer.

Messi has suffered a history of pain at the Copa America, having been on the losing side in three finals – 2007, 2015, and 2016.

© Reuters / Juan Medina

In the last of those, Messi missed a penalty as Chile won the shootout following a goalless 120 minutes of football at MetLife Stadium in New York.