From Argentine legend Lionel Messi to Brazil's charismatic play-maker Neymar and Uruguay's workhorse Luis Suarez, here are the stars to watch out for at the Copa America.
That Lionel Messi has not won a major international trophy for Argentina is one of sport’s great ironies in our time. He has had more than his share of heartbreaks at Copa America. In his first tournament in 2007, Argentina had lost, rather convincingly, to Brazil in the final. A theme had been set: he would be at the receiving end of a final twice more.
In 2016, he was so distraught after the second successive loss in the penalty shoot-out to Chile in a Copa America final, he announced his retirement from international football. He reversed the decision before long, though.
On April 17, he powered Barcelona to victory in the final of the Copa del Rey, Spain’s premier football cup. It was his 35th trophy with Barcelona. Could he finally win one for Argentina? We will find out by July 11. At 33, time is running out for Messi.
After missing out on the last two editions of Copa America, Neymar will be keen to make his presence felt in the continental tournament and to help Brazil retain the title it won two years ago. The Paris Saint-German striker had to drop out of the squad after injuring his ankle barely 10 days before the kick-off at home. Two years earlier, he pulled out apparently because his then club Barcelona wanted him to have some rest.
Neymer, of course, has since moved to Paris Saint-Germain, where he has been a prolific scorer, with 55 goals from 68 games. His strike isn’t as impressive for Brazil, but he is second in the all-time top-scorers' list, behind Pele, with 64 goals from 103 games. He needs to score only 14 more to overtake the legend. Brazil will be hoping a few of them would come at crucial junctures at the 47th edition of Copa America.
Chile is one of the four founding nations of CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation), which organises Copa America. Its wait to win the tournament proved the longest; the other three, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, lifted the trophy within five years after the competition started in 1916. It would take Chile nearly a century, and the brilliance of Alexis Sanchez, to win its first Copa America. The striker extraordinaire scored the winner against Argentina in the shoot-out after the final failed to produce a goal. A year later, when Chile retained the crown, after beating Argentina in a shoot-out in the final yet again, he was also the winner of the Golden Ball.
Sanchez holds the key to Chile’s campaign this time around too. In 2019, before the team was knocked out in the semifinals by Peru, he had done his bit. The Inter Milan striker is already his country’s most-capped player and highest scorer, with 45 goals from 136 appearances.
It is not easy being a contemporary compatriot of Luis Suarez, especially for a striker. Edinson Cavani, however, has managed to make his mark, and he has done it with panache. The 34-year-old may be in the last lap of his career, but happily for Uruguay, he is in red hot form going into Copa America. He has made an immediate impact after moving to Manchester United, on a free transfer from PSG. He has played a key role in United’s campaign at the Europa League. The goal he scored against Villarreal in the final, which his team lost in the shoot-out, was his sixth in the competition.
He had arrived in England after his glittering spell in Ligue 1, in which he is the all-time leading scorer with 138 goals from 200 matches. In 2011, he was part of the Uruguayan team that won Copa America. He wouldn’t mind an encore, 10 years later.
Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson grabbed the headlines when he scored a last-minute goal to power Liverpool to a 2-1 win against West Bromwich Albion recently. Alisson is rated as one of the best custodians in the English Premier League. The 28-year-old played a crucial role in Liverpool’s Premier League title run in 2019-2020.
It was Suarez’s 21st league goal of the campaign, in Atletico Madrid’s 2-1 win over Real Valladolid, which took his side to the La Liga title. Suarez was emotional after guiding Atletico to a first title in seven years, stating that this was redemption after he was “disrespected” by his previous club Barcelona. Uruguay will hope that Suarez brings that same fire and goal-scoring abilities to the field in Copa America.
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