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Biello: Exciting draw awaits Canada if it wins playoff to get into Copa America field

While the Canadian men still have to get past Trinidad and Tobago to join next summer's Copa America field, they now know what awaits the winner of that March playoff.

World Cup champion Argentina, Chile and Peru.

"Obviously the playoff comes first but for sure having Argentina in your group, the world champions, in a prestigious tournament is exciting," said interim coach Mauro Biello, who was at Thursday night's draw in Miami. "All eyes will be on the team. It's global exposure for the players."

Should 48th-ranked Canada qualify, it will open the tournament against No. 1 Argentina on June 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta before facing No. 35 Peru on June 25 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City and No. 40 Chile on June 29 at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.

In Argentina and Peru, Canada got the top-ranked teams in Pots 1 and 2 of the draw. Chile was the lowest-ranked South American team in Pot 3 (which also included No. 49 Venezuela, No. 53 Paraguay and No. 41 Panama).

Biello says rankings don't mean much when it concerns South American teams.

"They're all good teams … a type of competition that we haven't really faced," he said. "Because it's teams that are ready to give everything they have to represent their country. And that's also something that you've got to be ready (for) when you face these teams. And you maybe could match them technically and tactically, but you've got to match that passion that these types of teams will bring to these tournaments."

The Canadian men dropped into the playoff after losing the CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal to No. 55 Jamaica last month on the away goals rule after their two-legged series finished tied at 4-4.

Canada takes on No. 96 Trinidad and Tobago on March 23 in Frisco, Texas, in a single-game playoff with the winner slotting into Copa America's Group A.

The 2024 tournament, to be staged in the U.S. from June 20 to July 14, features eight CONMEBOL teams and six guest sides from CONCACAF.

The top two teams in each group move on to the quarterfinals. The top two in Canada's Group A will cross over to face the top two in Group B, which consists of Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela and Jamaica.

The Canadian men have played Argentina just once, losing 5-0 in May 2010 in Buenos Aires.

Canada is winless in two meetings with Peru, losing 2-0 in September 2010 at Toronto's BMO Field and drawing 0-0 in 1988 in Lima. Canada is 1-2-1 against Chile, losing 2-0 the last time they met in October 1995 in Concepcion.

"Peru is a good team. And Chile also," said Biello. "So, for sure, we're expecting — if it's us — a difficult matchup."

Argentina also faces Chile at East Rutherford, N.J., on June 25 in a repeat of the 2016 final at MetLife Stadium and closes Group A four days later against Peru at Miami Gardens, Fla., also site of the final on July 14.

Argentina and Uruguay have each won the tournament 15 times and Brazil has nine championships. Led by captain Lionel Messi, Argentina won the 2021 Copa America in Brazil for its first continental title since 1993, then last year captured its third World Cup and first since 1986.

Making the Copa America field is seen as a crucial step for Canada ahead of co-hosting the 2026 World Cup.

"The end in mind is the preparation for 2026," Biello said. "Being part of a tournament of this calibre and being able to play, against these teams and just feeling those types of game … Just feeling the fans, the pressures, the passion, that I think is important for players to experience leading into 2026. For sure, for us to be a part of that would be amazing. And then to perform well and to continue to grow as a group would be fantastic going forward."

Canada has never taken part in Copa America before.

It was slated to play in the 2001 tournament in Colombia as a reward for winning the Gold Cup in February 2000. But Canada Soccer decided not to attend after the South American federation announced, on the eve of the event, that it would be postponed to 2002 due to security concerns.

Five days later, it decided to go ahead with the event. Canada stayed away.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press