The Copa America beckons as the best stars in the American continent set to showcase themselves in what is billed the America’s Cup of Nations.This becomes even more special as it is the centenary tournament and every countries want to show themselves and prove what their countries are capable of. Star players like Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani, Willian, James Rodriguez will all be in action, showcasing what they are capable of.In this article though, we preview 16 players to watch out for i.e one player from each team that is expected to dazzle and lead his team to glory.
GROUP 1: USA, Columbia, Costa Rica, Paraguay
Christian Pulisic [USA] He’s a 17-year-old attacking midfielder. He’s playing legit minutes for Champions League bound Borussia Dortmund. He’s one of the brightest prospects in the international game. He’s American. The U.S. is in a “transition period” to use an oft-tread euphemism. But, we could be witnessing the start of a new era for U.S. Soccer.
James Rodriguez [Colombia] James was the best player and top-scorer at the 2014 World Cup. He hasn’t quite found a place in the attacking midfield at Real Madrid. But, battling for playing time with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Isco, that’s not necessarily a knock on him. A $90 million move to Manchester United is your early mega-transfer rumor of the summer.
Keylor Navas [Costa Rica] Real Madrid was stuck with Navas as goalkeeper, after their move to bring in Manchester United’s David De Gea fell through. But, he’s had an excellent season. He’ll be starting the Champions League final. He is the one truly world-class player in Costa Rica’s squad.
Antonio Sanabria, FW, Paraguay (Roma)
A product of Barcelona’s famed La Masia, Sanabria spent 2015-16 on loan at Sporting Gijon and was a key member of a side that managed to avoid relegation on the final day of the La Liga season. The 20-year-old scored 11 goals this past season in Asturias and now will look to make the most of his chance after being named to Ramon Diaz’s squad as a replacement for the injured Roque Santa Cruz. Defenders for Colombia, Costa Rica and the U.S. will have their hands full should Sanabria see the field.
Group B: Haiti, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador
Duckens Nazon, F, (Haiti)
While the Haitians might be the worst team in the tournament on paper, they could have a decent attack. Opposing teams will need to be careful in defending Nazon, or risk an upset at the hands of Haiti.The 22-year-old was born in France, where he has played domestically for four years. Nazon’s most productive stop was at fourth-tier Olmypique Saint-Quentin, where he scored 10 goals in 13 appearances between 2014 and 2015.Due to his rather unremarkable domestic career, Nazon enters the Copa America Centenario way under the radar. However, Nazon has previously proven himself as a capable scorer at the international level, and will get more attention with another strong tournament effort.Nazon succeeded most on the counterattack, and will look to do the same in the Centenario, as that’s the style the Haitians figure to play. Another miracle run through the group stage is unlikely, but Haiti could spring an upset with Nazon’s help.
Paolo Guerrero (Peru): Peru picked one of the more experimental Copa America squads, with the old guard like Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfan and Juan Manuel Vargas left out. But Paolo Guerrero will still be flying the flag for his country.The veteran forward is called ‘The Predator’ and he shone last year at Copa America 2015, firing his country through to the semi-finals, where they were eventually beaten by hosts Chile.Guerrero scored a hat-trick in the quarter-final clash with Bolivia and if Peru are to battle their way out of a group containing Brazil and Ecuador, they will need the striker to bring the goals once again.
Willian (Brazil) Willian fought a one-man battle against mediocrity, raging against the dying of the Mourinho-era light with a series of effervescent performances that should give some of his more storied team-mates pause. That his quest proved futile is kind of by the by: stadiums crackled with electricity every time he received the ball, he single handedly kept Chelsea in Europe, and he was the only person to seriously challenge Payet as the Premier League’s premier set-piece artist. Maybe it’s easier to stand out in a shower. Then again, it’s a damn sight harder to keep going when all around you have given up.He will be looking to lead Brazil in the absence of Neymar and Brazil fans will be looking up to him to deliver in their quest for Copa America glory.
Enner Valencia [Ecuador] Valencia has not quite come through since making the move to England’s West Ham. But, he scored three goals for Ecuador during the 2014 World Cup group stage. He had a goal and an assist, as Ecuador fell in the 2015 Copa America group stage. Another fine effort from him could carry them to the knockout round.
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Group C: Jamaica, Venezuela, Mexico, Uruguay
Wes Morgan [Jamaica] The 32-year-old central defender is having one heck of a late career resurgence. He won the EPL title with Leicester City. He was named to the PFA team of the year. The Reggae Boyz will hope he can captain them to some measure of success.
Adalberto Penaranda, FW, Venezuela (Watford)
It takes a lot to better one of Lionel Messi’s achievements, but that’s what the 18-year-old Penaranda did when he became the youngest foreign player ever to score a brace in La Liga when he picked up a pair of goals in Granada’s 2-1 win over Levante in December. On loan from Watford, the Venezuelan scored five goals in 21 matches with the Andalusians and is already on the radar of Premier League big boys Tottenham. A good Copa America would surely increase the number of suitors.
Javier Hernandez [Mexico] Chicharito finally found his form at club level in Europe with Bayer Leverkusen. He scored 26 goals in all competitions. If he’s wearing his scoring cleats, Mexico will be a different, more dangerous team.
Luis Suarez [Uruguay] Suarez is a phenomenal striker. He’s one of the top five players in the world and maybe its top villain, excepting Diego Costa. Suarez may dominate the tournament. He may bite someone. He may find some new way to be odious. Whatever he does, it will be appointment viewing.
Group D: Panama, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina
Ismael Diaz, FW, Panama (Porto B)
The future of Panama is bright thanks in part to the exploits of Diaz. The 19-year-old striker scored 13 goals for Porto B in 2015-16, helping his side win the Portuguese second division. But it was at the 2015 CONCACAF U20 Championships where Diaz drew the most attention, scoring four goals as Los Canaleros finished as runners-up. Now he gets a shot to make an impact for manager Hernan Dario Gomez’s senior side.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile): Sanchez will be feeding off his country’s win in Copa America 2015. That heroic run in last year’s tournament has given Chile leverage as a team no one wants to face. Sanchez will have plenty of talented teammates to work with such as Arturo Vidal, but he himself needs to continue his great play as he has done in recent months with Arsenal in the EPL. 17 goals in 41 appearances for his club will surely give him the boost to excel at peak performance, especially with a looming clash against rival Argentina in the group stage.
Marcelo Moreno [Bolivia] The 28-year-old striker has had an itinerant career, which has brought him to Brazil, Ukraine, Germany, England, and now China. He scored twice for Bolivia during the 2015 Copa America. He retired from international play and is refusing to play under the present regime. Bolivia called up for the preliminary squad anyway. Whether he plays or not, that’s the most interesting storyline.
Sergio Aguero (Argentina) :As more stars are troubled with potential injuries, Argentina is facing the loss of Messi, although that is yet to be determined, La Albiceleste will look Sergio Aguero for answers. Argentina is loaded as usual, but Aguero will be have to be the catalyst that helps secure a Copa America victory for them.Aguero has 10 goals in the past year for his national team and will need to continue that in the next month.