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Copa América 2021: Ten players to look forward to

Staff Staff

With the biggest names in world football gearing up to showcase their talents at Copa America, we have selected the top ten, who might just steal the headlines.

 

1. Federico Valverde

Copa América record winners Uruguay head into the tournament as one of the favorites to win the title yet again for a 16th time. For Uruguay to go the full nine yards, Federico Valverde will be crucial cog in the wheel.
The Real Madrid star, although only 22, is regarded as one of the finest in the world today. Known for the aggressive pace and an eye for making those crucial plays, Valverde’s biggest strength lies in his versatility. As proven by his time at Real Madrid, Valverde often plays on the right in a flat 4-4-2, providing support for the central midfielders along with advancing from the wide possession, and in a 4-3-3 – where he plays ahead of Casemiro beside Kroos. He is known to fall back when needed while also operating as a number 10 whenever required. Valverde is known to dominate the midfield by covering large areas of the pitch; he doesn’t take too many risks either by not overplaying the ball. Even though he is not physically imposing, Valverde is a constant box-to-box threat with his relentless effort to keep pressing.
Valverde’s dynamic skill set of speed, agility and defensive work-rate will be crucial if Uruguay plan to take the cup home this year.

 

2. Lautaro Martínez

Coming off a league-winning season with Inter, Lautaro Martínez is slowly cementing his name as one of the forces to be reckoned with in world football today.
The Argentine has the quality of an all-out striker and a number 10. He is known for his pace, his possessional control when being closed down, and his ability to head the ball with precision and power. He also finds space between defenders, and his awareness helps him get in positions when there is a rebound or miss pass. Lautaro provides depth to the Argentinean attack and places himself between the central defenders to coordinate counter attacks. He is the ideal support player to Leo Messi and Sergio Agüero.
Martínez will look to help his team get that elusive trophy that they have been waiting for.

 

3. Moisés Caicedo

At just 19 years of age, Caicedo has a long and bright future ahead of him, if one’s to go by his short career highlights. The Ecuadorian, who joined Premier League’s Brighton & Hove Albion in January, is a versatile defensive midfielder capable of both playing as a principal holding midfielder or a forward-thinking one with impeccable movement, passing and tactical discipline.
The Ecuadorian is always looking to get the ball from the centre-backs; he retains and recycles possession effectively, creating a smooth transition from defence to attack. With a more than decent strike from range ability, Caicedo is a goal-threat too.
Caicedo will play a key role in his team’s progress in this year’s Copa.

 

4. Eduardo Vargas

With Alexis Sánchez ruled out of the group stages, Chile will have all of their hopes pinned on his strike partner, Eduardo Vargas.
Vargas helped Chile emerge victorious and ended up as the top scorer in their Copa América-winning campaigns in 2015 and 2016. The 31-year-old is prolific in front of the goal at the international level, having amassed 39 goals in 96 caps in his career. Vargas is known to be versatile and robust, not only being the clinical striker but also helping create key chances. The Chilean is quick and is a threatening force on the counterattack. Vargas has probably not been able to make his presence felt as much as he would’ve liked thanks to Alexis, but this is his opportunity to show the world what he can do in absence of his country’s talisman.

 

5. Luis Suárez

After six years of undying passion for his club, Suárez left FC Barcelona having helped them win every club trophy there is. Yet when he left, Suárez had unfinished business; Barcelona were looking past the then 33-year-old and wanted new blood, and hence the Uruguayan was sold to Atlético Madrid for a mere seven million dollars.
Suárez comes into this year’s Copa on the back of a tremendous domestic season, having won the league with his new club in his debut season. With 21 league goals in his debut season, Suárez reminded the world (and maybe a few at Camp Nou) that he was not finished. A lethal striker, a poacher, Suárez is both – a binding and a dropping striker. He drags the defenders with him, helping in opening up spaces for his teammates, while being equally adept at dropping deeper to allow a build-up play. During his time at Barcelona, Suárez made with Messi one of the deadliest combinations in football history. At the international level, Suárez pairs up with another poacher – Edison Cavani.
The Uruguayan fans will hope that Suárez and Cavani can replicate their 2011 success to lift the trophy again.

 

6. Cristian Romero

The Argentine represents the old school defenders – he’s no-nonsense, tackles hard, amasses too many bookings, even wears black boots! Cristian Romero was named the best defender of the 2020/21 season in Serie A. He also helped his side Atalanta get Champions League qualification for another year.
Romero is your quintessential defender – he happily sits back, clearing loose balls and covering runs behind the defence, but on the odd occasion you will see him pick the ball up and attack too. He is known to build up play with a lot of interplay with his other centre-backs as he often builds an attack pushing out wide. His incredible physical profile gives him an aerial edge too.
As Argentina look to break the trophy drought, it will not be a surprise to see a good tournament for Romero spell success for his team too.

 

7. Edinson Cavani

When Cavani swapped Paris for Manchester, many were left puzzled as to why United invested in a 33-year-old, especially when they looked to build a team for the future. One season later, Cavani has easily been one of United’s best players all season, with 10 goals in his debut season, helping United finish second. Cavani has answered any and all questions on the pitch.
The Uruguayan thrives in an advanced central position, being very similar to a traditional number nine, which is evident from his placement close to the opposition’s central defenders. During his time at PSG, a mind-boggling 93% of his league goals were scored from inside the width of the six-yard box, which just goes to show his ability to find space to attack and game knowledge of knowing where he should be. Cavani is a clinical finisher and also uses his height to his advantage, becoming an aerial threat.
With a world class partner in Luis Suárez, if Cavani can bring his domestic form to Copa, Uruguay will be quite a force to be reckoned with.

 

8. Neymar

There is no doubt about Neymar’s qualities. He is arguably one of the best in the world right now and sits in a league of his own with a select few. Why does he feature in a list of players to watch out for? That’s because Neymar has endured a difficult run coming into the tournament. Injuries and COVID have seen him miss a significant chunk of the season, with PSG failing to win the league as well.
Known to be one of the most explosive attackers, Neymar excels at both the left-inside channel and centre too. His nimble feet and pace make him difficult to track and help him move far away from his markers. Neymar has a unique ability of pausing and moving again with deft first touches. Along with this, his ability of being equally strong on both feet make it increasingly tough to anticipate and defend against him.
Having missed out the previous edition and having a poor record in tournaments held at home, Neymar would want to fix all that and showcase his talent, once again, at the biggest stage in the world.

 

9. Gabriel Barbosa

Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa has always been in the spotlight since his younger years. Looked upon as a prodigy and the next big thing in Brazil, there has been relentless pressure on the Brazilian.
After quiet spells at Benfica and Inter Milan, Gabigol has found his rhythm back at Flamengo. Deployed on the wings, Barbosa is a two-footed striker, and his high work rate is something that sees him fall back and help his side whenever needed.
With a menacing frontline for Brazil, it will be interesting to see how much game time Gabigol gets, but whatever he gets, he will be sure to make it count.

 

10. Lionel Messi

Can there be a list without the maestro himself?
Coming off one of his worst domestic seasons, with transfer talks not doing any good – Lionel Messi finds himself at a weird position.
Domestically he is at a club with which he’s won everything, but as Barça are going through a transition, Messi isn’t sure where his future lies. Although he claims he can never go against Barcelona, how long will Messi carry the team around? Internationally, Messi’s luck has been drastically opposite to its domestic counterpart. Messi has no international trophies to show for his 145 senior caps with Argentina, and with time running out, this year’s Copa might be the elusive international trophy Messi ends his international career with.

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