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History provides hope that Copa America can come back stronger after coronavirus-forced postponement

Steve Nicol and Shaka Hislop feel the correct decision has been made to suspend all major leagues in Europe.

The world's oldest continental competition, the Copa America was first played in 1916 -- while Europe was at war -- with the original intention of staging the tournament annually.

The first one was held in Argentina, the 1917 version took place in Uruguay, and the 1918 tournament was set for Brazil. But though the Copa carried on during the First World War, there was one global event it could not ignore -- the outbreak of the so-called "Spanish Flu" pandemic. This disease, which infected over 500 million people globally, proved so serious -- it even killed Brazil's president-elect Rodrigues Alves -- that the Copa had to be put back a year, and eventually played in Rio de Janeiro in May of 1919.

History now repeats itself. The coronavirus outbreak has forced the postponement of the 2020 Copa America, co-hosted between Argentina and Colombia, which has now been put back to June and July of next year.

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The news came as no surprise with last week an extremely unusual one in South American football. In the course of a few days, business as usual gave way to behind closed doors matches which have now almost everywhere given way to total shutdown. When the news came through last Thursday that the Copa Libertadores, the continent's Champions League, had been suspended, it was clear that the Copa would not go ahead as planned. All that was needed was a formal announcement with coordination with UEFA. That came on Tuesday, with the respective governing bodies announcing that both European Championships and Copa America would be postponed a year.

The Copa America was supposed to take place this summer in Argentina and Colombia but will now be postponed until 2021.

But there is a difference in the decision between the two continents. The postponement of the Euros may be underpinned by a hope -- perhaps forlorn -- that this will free up June and July for the completion of domestic leagues and the conclusion of the continental competitions.

The situation is different in South America. Firstly, almost all the leagues follow the calendar year, and so are in the early stages. It may prove easier to simply scrap them and start anew next year. The Libertadores is also in its early stages, just two of the six rounds of group play having been played. The problem here is that June and July is mid-Winter in the Southern Cone -- very cold in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, the south of Brazil and briefly in Paraguay .

So the scenario for South American football remains unclear. But at least history gives us a reason to smile. After the suspension for the Spanish Flu in 1918, people were all the more keen to enjoy the collective spectacle of the third Copa America when it did eventually take place.

The 1919 Copa is a hugely significant moment in the development of the game. On home soil, Brazil won their first title. Just as important, though, was the participation of Uruguay, who had won the previous two tournaments and were the runners up this time. They featured a diverse roster, led by the extraordinary Isabelino Gradin, and defeated Argentina and Chile. This was a sharp contrast to Brazil, where the game was still largely restricted to the elite. The locals took notice, songs were written about the 1919 Copa, and something that could hardly have been predicted two decades earlier, the continent of South America started to establish itself as one of the major players in world football.

The celebrations of 1919 helped drown the tears of the previous year's pandemic. Hopefully 2021 will do the same this time around.

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