World Cup vs Copa America

World Cup vs Copa America – What’s The Difference?

There are quite a few international football competitions, where teams from different countries will play against each other.

If you’re from South America, you may have seen your country participate in both the World Cup and Copa America. However, which one is better, and how are these competitions different?

Here’s what you need to know:

The difference between the World Cup and Copa America

The World Cup is an intercontinental competition that includes countries from all 6 different continents, while Copa America only involves mainly the 10 countries from South America, and some guest nations.

Here is an in-depth comparison between these 2 competitions:

Number of teams involved

The World Cup has 32 teams in the actual tournament, where it is split into 8 groups of 4 teams.

This only measures the number of teams in the main competition. There will be quite a few teams that were involved in the qualifying rounds which do not make the cut.

Meanwhile, Copa America can range between 10-16 teams. In most competitions, it will consist of 12 teams:

  • 10 CONMEBOL member countries
  • 2 guest nations

CONMEBOL is the South American football association, which consists of 10 countries such as Brazil and Argentina.

There are 2 other guest nations which will be invited to take part in the tournament, where Mexico is a common feature in this competition:

YearGuest Countries
2007Mexico and United States
2011Mexico and Costa Rica
2015Mexico and Jamaica
2016Mexico, United States,
Costa Rica, Jamaica,
Haiti, Panama
2019Japan and Qatar

The 2016 tournament was Copa América Centenario, which celebrated the centenary of CONMEBOL and the Copa América. Meanwhile, the 2021 tournament did not have any guests due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Number of continents involved

The World Cup involves countries from all over the world. However, there is a limit to how many teams per continent can feature in the World Cup:

ContinentNumber of Countries
Asia4 or 5
North, Central America
and the Caribbean
3 or 4
South America4 or 5
Oceania0 or 1

These limits were decided in 2015 for the next few World Cups, until 2022.

The host will automatically for the competition, which leaves 31 more slots for the other teams.

Europe has the most number of slots at 13! The next continent with the second-highest number of teams includes both Asia and South America.

Meanwhile, Copa America only involves countries that are a part of CONMEBOL, which consist of the 10 member countries in the association, along with the guest nations.

Frequency of the competition

The World Cup happens once every 4 years. It is usually held 2 years apart from the continental competitions, such as the Euros.

It is also held 2 years apart from the Olympics. With many restrictions being placed on Olympic football, it is no wonder why it is much less popular compared to the World Cup.

Meanwhile, the frequency of Copa America is quite irregular. It started being held every 4 years from 2007 to 2015.

However, a special Copa America (Copa América Centenario), was held in 2016.

Another Copa America was held in 2019, with another one scheduled to be held in 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was pushed to 2021 instead.

Duration of the competition

Both the World Cup and Copa America are usually held over the course of one month. Both competitions usually start in June, one month after most football seasons end in May.

They will both run all the way till the end of July.

Format of competition

Both the World Cup and Copa America consist of a group stage, and then a knockout round.

The top 2 teams from each group will progress onto the knockout round of the tournament.

Due to the different number of teams that have participated in the Copa America, there have been different formats to decide the group stages:

of teams
Qualification for
next round
20193 groups
of 4 teams
Top 2 qualifies, with the top 2
among the three 3rd-placed teams
20212 groups
of 5 teams
Top 4 teams
of each group

Presence of third-place match

Both the World Cup and Copa America will have a third-place match. This is held between the losers of both semi-finals in either the World Cup or Copa America.

Squad size

Both the World Cup and the Copa America have the same squad size (23). This is slightly lower compared to club competitions like the Champions League which allow 25 players and an unlimited amount of homegrown players.

The squad size for Copa America was increased to 28 in the 2021 tournament as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualification for competition

For the World Cup, each association will have their own qualifying competition. This will differ among the associations, as there will be a different number of countries that qualify from each association.

Usually, the host country will automatically qualify for the World Cup.

Since CONMEBOL only has 10 member countries, all 10 of them will qualify for Copa America.

Rewards for winning competition

When your country wins the World Cup, it is considered to be one of the greatest honours to win as a footballer. This is because your country will be considered to be the best footballing team in the world.

Some people may say that the Champions League may be better than the World Cup, but it’s really up to your discretion!

If your country wins Copa America, it will signify that your country is the best in CONMEBOL (South America).


Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

World CupCopa America
of Countries
3210 – 16
of Continents
61+ (South America
and guest nations)
of  Competition
Every 4 yearsIrregular
of Competition
1 month1 month
of Competition
Group stage +
knockout round (RO16)
Group stage +
knockout round (QF)
Third Place Match?PresentPresent
Squad Size2323 (28 in 2021)
QualificationWorld Cup
nations qualify
Only for hostsFor all CONMEBOL nations
Rewards for
Winning Competition
Best country
in the world
Best country

Does the Copa America winners qualify for the World Cup?

Winning Copa America will not result in your country receiving automatic qualification for the World Cup. Your country’s team will still need to participate in the CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers, but they may receive a higher seeding due to their performance in Copa America.

If your country wins Copa America it mainly means that your country is the best team in CONMEBOL. This is similar to how winning the Euros would signify that you country is the best team in Europe.

However, the results of Copa America do not directly impact whether your team automatically qualifies for the World Cup.

Instead, your country’s FIFA World Ranking may be higher due to their performance in Copa America.

If your country is one of the top-ranked teams in CONMEBOL, they may have a greater chance of qualifying for the World Cup!


Both the World Cup and Copa America are international competitions. However, the World Cup may have more prestige compared to Copa America, since it is an intercontinental competition while Copa America is just a tournament for South American teams!

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