After a long and arduous season it’s fair to say that the last thing club managers want to see at this time of the year is their players linking up with international squads, particularly having had to ease some of their stars back into action after last summer’s World Cup. There’s little respite for the world’s finest South American talents though, with hosts Chile set to kick-off the upcoming Copa América on Thursday night against Ecuador. Apart form the well known name like Lionel Messi of Argetina, Neymar of Brazil and Alexis Sanchez of Chile, here are the players who will be key to their sides’ aspirations this summer.
Chile: Charles Aránguiz
Chile’s style of play makes them very popular and unique international, with the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal undoubtedly the stars of the show. In a team so reliant on high energy and aggressive pressing, the role of Internacional midfielder Charles Aránguiz is key. The 26-year-old had an impressive World Cup campaign and ended the 2014 Brasileirao season with a rating of 7.06 courtesy of typically impressive all-round figures, including six goals, three assists and 2.6 tackles per game.
Mexico: Jesús Corona
While they will be favourites to progress through the group along with the hosts, Miguel Herrera’s Copa América squad represents something of a B-team, with the high-profile names spared for next month’s Gold Cup in the US. In the absence of Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos in attack, Twente’s Jesús Corona is the man to watch, ranking 8th in the Dutch league classification with a score of 7.58. He scored nine times and averaged the most dribbles per game (3.5) in the Dutch top-flight last season.
Ecuador: Jefferson Montero
In the absence of Antonio Valencia and Felipe Caicedo through injury, Ecuador’s ranks are significantly depleted. Enner Valencia and Christian Noboa will be key through the spine of the side but the service for the latter will need to come from the wide areas, where Jefferson Montero can be so effective on the counter. The Swansea man wasn’t always a regular last term, making 15 of 30 league appearances from the bench, but he still managed an impressive seven assists, while only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Eden Hazard completed a dribble more often in the Premier League (every 20.1 minutes).
Bolivia: Marcelo Moreno
Expected to be the whipping boys of Group A, Bolivia are the lowest ranked team in this year’s Copa. They have failed to progress past the group stages in their last five attempts since a shock second-placed finish when hosting the tournament in 1997, with the altitude having a huge bearing on that success. Their hopes will fall on the shoulders of Marcelo Moreno, formerly of Wigan Athletic and Shakhtar Donetsk. He racked up an impressive 14 goals in last season’s Brasileirao, enough to finish third in the scoring charts before a move to China earlier this year.
Argentina: Javier Pastore
Of course captain Lionel Messi will be in the limelight as ever for the pre-tournament favourites but if Argentina are to fulfil their potential the team beyond the Barça man must step forward. Javier Pastore has done that for PSG this season, perhaps in competition with Marco Verratti as their player of the season. His always elegant performances should have done enough to warrant a starting place this summer, with a rating of 7.40 earned following five goals and 12 assists this season, plus 2.1 dribbles and two tackles per game.
Uruguay: Edinson Cavani
In the absence of the suspended Luis Suárez, Uruquay will look to Edinson Cavani and the impressive Diego Rolán for goals, and hope for solid performances from the Atlético Madrid centre-back pairing of Diego Godín and José Giménez. Cavani must continue his sensational form from the end of the season if Óscar Tabárez’s team are to upset the odds this summer. He ended the campaign by scoring the winning goal in the Coupe de France, having scored 10 times in his final seven Ligue 1 appearances, taking his tally in the French top flight to 18 for the season.
Paraguay: Lucas Barrios
It may be odd to name a striker that hasn’t scored for almost four years for his national team as a key man but if Lucas Barrios can recapture the form he displayed at the start of the year then his input could be vital in a tough group for Paraguay. Having played such an instrumental role in Borussia Dortmund’s early success under Jürgen Klopp, Barrios went off the boil following the arrival of Robert Lewandowski, with injuries restricting his progress. His form remains patchy but nine league goals in his 10 appearances for Montpellier immediately after the winter break proved that the 30-year old can still make an impact.
Jamaica: Kemar Lawrence
Few people expect Jamaica to make any waves in their first Copa América but they do boast some recognisable names. Reading’s Michael Hector will be hoping for an international debut but the hottest prospect in the squad is arguably the New York Red Bulls full-back Kemar Lawrence. The 22-year-old has scored twice for his country already and began the 2015 MLS season in fine form, with a rating of 7.26 courtesy of excellent figures of 2.9 aerial duels won, 2.3 tackles and 3.1 interceptions per game.
Brazil: Roberto Firmino
The reappointment of Dunga following Brazil’s disastrous World Cup exit was met with scepticism but the Selecao, revived by some fresh faces, have won every game since last summer. One of said arrivals in the side has been Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino, who, after some noteworthy displays from the bench, is tipped to gain a starting place this summer. The 23-year-old had another superb season in the Bundesliga, scoring seven goals and registering 10 assists. He loves to find pockets of space in order to run at defenders and averaged 4.2 dribbles per game in the league last season.
Colombia: Carlos Bacca
The Colombia manager, José Pékerman, has a plethora of striking talent at his disposal and it will be interesting to see how much faith he shows in his newly appointed captain, the out of sorts Radamel Falcao. Based on recent form it’s fair to say that Carlos Bacca deserves to be at the front of the queue as far as the forwards are concerned, with the Sevilla man ending the La Liga campaign with 20 goals before scoring twice in the Europa League final – taking his tally to seven for the tournament – and earning our man of the match award with a rating of 8.80 in the process.
Peru: Carlos Zambrano
In a Peru side led by the ageing figures of Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfan and Juan Manuel Vargas in attack, the defence is relatively young, with Frankfurt’s Carlos Zambrano set to be at its heart. In a season disrupted by injury midway through the Bundesliga campaign the 25-year-old made 17 appearances, ending on the losing side just five times. The centre-back won 4.2 aerial duels per game and made 2.4 tackles and two interceptions per match on average.
Venezuela: Salomon Rondon
The new Benfica signing, Jhon Murillo, who scored the winning goal on his international aged just 19 earlier this year, will be one to watch but much of Venezuela’s hopes may well rely on the form of striker José Salomón Rondón. The 25-year-old made just 17 of his 26 league appearances for the Russian champions from the start but he still managed to score 13 goals, along with another four in the Champions League and Europa League. It’s likely to be a straight shootout with Peru for a potential passage through the group and Rondón may need to score the goals to ensure that Venezuela come out on top.