Copa América History: The Oldest International Football Tournament in the World

Copa America History

The Copa América History tells us many interesting facts. Uruguay has won the most number of titles. Argentina has participated and reached the finals the most number of times. Some players like Lionel Messi and Norberto Mendez have set amazing records over the years. The competition saw the highest goals scored in a match and the biggest crowd at the stadium. You will be surprised to know the youngest and oldest players to play in it. The Copa América is a matter of great pride for South American countries. The 2024 Copa America 48th edition promises to be exciting as the best footballers from two continents compete.

The Copa América is the oldest international football tournament in the world, having been first held in 1916. The exciting history of the Copa América is as captivating as the tournament itself. Let’s take a journey through the eventful history of this prestigious South American tournament.

History of Copa America


The Copa América was first held in Buenos Aires in 1916 to celebrate the centenary of Argentine independence. The tournament featured Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Uruguay defeated Argentina in the finals to become the first nation to win the championship.

The Copa América was originally known as the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football. It was organized by the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) which had been founded just two years prior in 1914.

Early Years (1910s-1920s)

After Uruguay’s victory in the inaugural 1916 tournament, Brazil emerged victorious in 1919 defeating Uruguay in the finals. Argentina hosted the competition in 1920 and won their first title defeating Uruguay 4-3 in the finals.

In 1921, Paraguay participated for the first time but it was Brazil who won their second championship. Argentina won successive tournaments in 1925 and 1927.

Professional Era Begins (1930s-1940s)

The 1930 World Cup held in Uruguay impacted the Copa América as professionalism took root in the region. Uruguay established themselves as the dominant force winning three straight COPA titles from 1929-1935.

The tournament could not be held for almost a decade between 1937-46 due to World War II and its aftermath. By the time it resumed in 1947, Brazil began emerging as a force to reckon with.

Brazil’s Rise and the Advent of Television (1950s-1960s)

Brazil won their first Copa América title in 1949 beginning a period of dominance. They would win successive championships in 1949, 1953, 1956 and 1959.

The 1959 Copa América in Argentina was the first to be broadcast on television exposing the tournament to a wider audience.

Military Coups and World Cup Success (1970s-1980s)

The 1970s were a turbulent period in South America with military coups and political unrest. On the football field, Uruguay emerged from the shadows winning the Copa in 1967 and 1983.

Argentina hosted and won the Copa in 1978 shortly before winning their first World Cup in 1978. Brazil began their dominance in the 1980s winning in 1983, 1987 and 1989.

Globalization and Commercialization (1990s-2000s)

With football becoming globalized and commercialized, the Copa América expanded to 12 teams in 1993. Brazil continued to dominate, winning in 1997 and 1999.

Colombia and Bolivia both earned their first Copa titles in 2001 and 1997 respectively. Argentina emerged from a trophy drought by winning in 1991 and 1993.

The Modern Era (2011-present)

In 2011, the tournament expanded to 16 teams. Uruguay won a record 15th title in 2011. Chile won their first title as hosts in 2015.

In 2016, the Copa América was celebrated across the USA for its 100th anniversary edition. Chile defended their title defeating Argentina on penalties.

Brazil ended their trophy drought in 2019 defeating Peru 3-1 in the final. Argentina won the 2021 edition defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final at the Maracanã stadium.

Most Successful Countries in Copa America History

  • Uruguay – 15 Titles
  • Argentina – 15 Titles
  • Brazil – 9 Titles
  • Paraguay – 2 Titles
  • Chile – 2 Titles
  • Peru – 2 Titles
  • Bolivia – 1 Title
  • Colombia – 1 Title

Copa América Top Players

The Copa América has showcased some of the greatest players in football history including:

  • Pelé (Brazil) – Leading scorer with 12 goals
  • Diego Maradona (Argentina) – Led Argentina to victory in 1986
  • Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Argentina’s all-time leading scorer
  • Luis Suárez (Uruguay) – Uruguay’s top scorer with 8 goals
  • Ronaldo (Brazil) – Youngest player to win MVP in 1999
  • Ronaldinho (Brazil) – MVP of 1999 Copa América victory

Most Valuable Players in Copa América History

Here are some of the most iconic MVPs in Copa history:

  • Diego Maradona (Argentina) – 1987
  • Romário (Brazil) – 1989
  • Ronaldo (Brazil) – 1999
  • Ronaldinho (Brazil) – 1999
  • Lionel Messi (Argentina) – 2015
  • Alexis Sánchez (Chile) – 2016

Controversial Moments

The Copa has had its share of controversies over the years:

  • The Football War – The 1969 final between Honduras and El Salvador contributed to the escalating tensions that led to a brief war between the two nations.
  • Argentina Walkout – In 1971, Argentina withdrew from the competition after disputing the result of the finals against Uruguay.
  • Mass Brawl – The 1987 Copa final descended into a mass brawl between Chile and Uruguay players.
  • Ticket Scalping Scandal – The 2019 Copa was marred by a ticket reselling scandal leading to compromised security.
  • Superclásico Finals – Argentina vs Brazil faced off in the 2004, 2007, and 2021 finals exacerbating their intense rivalry.
  • Questionable Refereeing – Controversial refereeing decisions have impacted several key matches over the years.

Copa América Records

Most Titles15Uruguay
Most Appearances29Argentina
Most Goals17Norberto Mendez (Argentina) and Zizinho (Brazil)
Most Finals24Argentina and Uruguay
Most MVPs5Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Consecutive Titles5Argentina (1945–1955)
Unbeaten Champions2Argentina (1991) and Brazil (1997)
Most Goals in a Game9Jairzinho (Brazil) vs Colombia in 1949
Highest Attendance114,460Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, 2011 final
Youngest Player15 years, 5 monthsAntonio Sastre (Argentina) in 1939
Oldest Player40 years, 9 monthsJosé Andrade (Uruguay) in 1959

Impact and Legacy

As the oldest continental football tournament, the Copa América has had a significant impact:

  • It has united South American nations around a shared sporting passion.
  • The tournament has driven the development of footballing infrastructure and culture across the continent.
  • It has showcased South American talent to the world, leading to global opportunities for players.
  • Victory in the tournament is a huge source of national pride for South Americans.
  • Its rich history and legends have established the Copa as one of the most prestigious international tournaments.

The Copa América occupies a special place in world football as a captivating celebration of skill, passion, and South American rivalry.

Copa América Future

The 2024 Copa América 48th edition will be held in the United States for the second time. The tournament will feature 16 teams, with all 10 CONMEBOL teams and 6 CONCACAF teams. This expanded tournament will bring South America’s iconic competition to North American audiences.

The Copa promises to continue showcasing exciting attacking football, world-class players, and passionate fans. With its centenary in 2016, the Copa América is firmly poised to grow its prestige and legacy with upcoming editions.


We learned about the rich Copa América History – how it began in 1916 and continues to be hugely popular. South American countries take lots of pride in performing well in this competition. The records set by players over the decades show what amazing talents have been part of this tournament.

The 2024 Copa América is going to be extra special because teams from North and South America will compete. It will be interesting to see who wins the most titles and sets new records. Following the Copa América history makes us admire the passion with which footballers from different nations participate. The legacy of this oldest football event continues to inspire new generations of players and fans.


Here are some frequently asked questions about the history of the Copa América:

Which country has won the most Copa América titles?

Uruguay has won 15 Copa América titles, the most of any nation.

Which player has scored the most goals at the Copa América?

Argentina’s Norberto Méndez and Brazil’s Zizinho share the record for most goals, with 17 goals each.

When was the first Copa América held?

The first Copa América was held in 1916 in Argentina. Uruguay won the inaugural tournament.

How many teams currently compete in the Copa América?

The current Copa América features 16 teams – the 10 CONMEBOL teams and 6 CONCACAF teams.

Which country hosted the Copa América the most times?

Argentina and Uruguay have both hosted the Copa América 9 times, more than any other nation.

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