Copa America Stars To Be
The Copa America kicks off in Chile on Thursday with some of the world’s top footballers on display.
While Luis Suarez may be banned, the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Alexis Sanchez will all be competing to lift the trophy in Santiago on July 4th.
However, most tournaments also throw up new stars – hitherto relatively unknown players who light up the tournament. Here’s a player from each team to keep an eye out for during the next month.
Raul Jimenez, Mexico
Mexico have sent an under-strength squad to the tournament, as they have prioritised the upcoming Gold Cup in North America.
Therefore, the onus will fall on the relatively experienced members of the squad to lead a panel mainly comprising of domestic league players.
Jimenez , an Olympics gold medal winner in 2012, has just completed a disappointing first season at Atletico Madrid and will be eager to make up for it at the heart of Mexico’s attack.
Angelo Henriquez, Chile
The Manchester United striker has found his chances at Old Trafford limited so far, but impressed on loan at Dinamo Zagreb last season – bagging 29 goals in just 36 appearances.
The 21-year-old should get some opportunities for the hosts but will face tough competition with Mauricio Pinilla, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas for a starting place.
Miller Bolanos, Ecuador
The 25-year-old striker will be hoping the tournament provides a springboard for a move to join his international team-mates Jefferson Montero and Enner Valencia at a European club.
He only made his international bow in March but has already scored against Argentina and has been prolific in recent seasons in Ecuador’s domestic league.
Sebastian Gamarra, Bolivia
In a squad brimming with experience 18-year-old Gamarra stands out as one to watch.
On the books of AC Milan, the midfielder has been dubbed the Bolivian Pirlo and only made his debut recently against Argentina.
However, it was a Walcottian risk for manager Mauricio Soria to draft the youngster, who has yet to play in Italy, into his squad and he is unlikely to start him in their opening match against Mexico on Friday.
Nicolas Otamendi, Argentina
With a squad brimming with world-class talent, it’ll be difficult for a new Argentine star to emerge at this tournament. Indeed, 23-year-old Erik Lamela is the youngest player in the roster.
While the Valencia defender Otamendi is hardly an unknown quantity, the Copa could prove a shop window for the 27-year-old, who has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United this summer.
Jose Maria Gimenez, Uruguay
The Atletico Madrid defender only won his first cap 18 months ago and already has tournament experience, having featured against England in last summer’s World Cup.
Atletico have already turned down an approach from Manchester City for the promising 20-year-old, who has also been linked with Manchester United.
Derlis Gonzalez, Paraguay
The 21-year-old, who can operate as a striker or winger, enjoyed a decent start to his Basel career last season, including a goal at Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Gonzalez only made his international debut last year but should win a starting berth for Paraguay in a tough group that also includes Argentina and Uruguay.
Michael Hector, Jamaica
Jamaica are 8/1 to finish in the top two of a Group of Death featuring Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay and will be entering the tournament with the aim of keeping score-lines respectable.
Central to this task will be Reading’s Michael Hector, who was playing League of Ireland football for Dundalk four years ago.
The 22-year-old centre-back enjoyed a decent season with The Royals, helping his side to the FA Cup semi-finals and should make his Reggae Boyz debut at the Copa.
Roberto Firmino, Brazil
The Hoffenheim attacking midfielder has featured in recent friendlies for Brazil, scoring his first international goal against Austria last November.
Another young star linked with a move to Manchester City, the 23-year-old was fourth highest goalscorer in the Bundesliga last season and may get an opportunity to shine in Chile due to an injury to Willian.
Carlos Ascues, Peru
The Peruvian centre-back might be a good punt for goalscorer bets at the Copa, having scored five goals in his six international appearances so far.
However, his team will also need to rely on his defensive capabilities in a group containing Brazil and Colombia.
Salomon Rondon, Venezuela
Rondon hasn’t scored for Venezuala since 2013 but he enjoyed a fine season for Russian champions Zenit Saint Petersburg, netting 20 goals in all competitions.
Venezualan hopes of progressing beyond the group stage will hinge on Rondon and 20-year-old strike partner Jhon Murillo firing on all cylinders against Peru, Brazil and Colombia.
Carlos Bacca, Colombia
While followers of Spanish football and the Europa League will be familiar with the 28-year-old, this tournament is an opportunity to further enhance his burgeoning reputation.
Bacca was restricted to one substitute appearance during last year’s World Cup but his form last season for Sevilla – allied with Falcao’s contrasting fortunes at Manchester United – suggest he’ll get his chance to shine in Chile.