The 46th edition of the Copa America promises another exhibition for some of football’s brightest talents.
Lionel Messi’s dogged pursuit of a first piece of silverware with Argentina and Philippe Coutinho’s revitalisation with hosts Brazil provide two of the major storylines. But beyond the obvious names, talent abounds.
Here is a list of players who could either rise to prominence, or earn major moves to Europe, on the back of their exploits from June 14-July 7:
Caps (goals): 10 (5)
A Neymar-sized hole exists in the Brazil attack – and in-form Richarlison looks capable of filling it.
The Everton forward has adapted perfectly to the demands of international football since his senior debut in September 2018. An average of a goal every 104.6 minutes – a ratio boosted by strikes in both warm-ups – is eminently impressive, particularly when half of his 10 caps have come as a substitute.
Ajax’s David Neres is likely to be the immediate beneficiary of Neymar’s continued injury frustrations. Yet, Richarlison is now guaranteed to start and has grown significantly in prominence.
Brazil’s generous opening to Group A against Bolivia provides opportunity to gain early momentum. Watch them and Richarlison fly.
Caps (goals): 14 (0)
A quiet buzz has been developing about this Venezuelan generation and their athletic custodian.
Farinez was the defiant figure in goal when they outstripped expectation and made it to the 2017 U-20 World Cup final, even netting a penalty during the group-stage thrashing of Vanuatu. Now, comes a prominent opportunity to wow at senior level after he was an unused member of the 2015 Copa squad as a 16-year-old.
The Millonarios shot stopper is a throwback. Phenomenal reflexes and a remarkable spring are the main weapons in his armoury, because of his relative lack of height at six-feet tall.
Links to Barcelona, as the new back-up to Germany’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen, will only strengthen if he ensures Venezuela’s rise continues from Group A.
RODRIGO DE PAUL
Caps (goals): 4 (0)
Rookie coach Lionel Scaloni is not alone when, seemingly, being unaware of Argentina’s best XI.
The return of Messi provides comfort, but World Cup 2018 evidence even he cannot do it all alone. This is where De Paul, potentially, enters.
The 25-year-old enjoyed his best season in Europe in 2018/19, notching nine goals and eight assists for an awful Udinese. His ability to dribble at high speed and deliver quality should see him emerge ahead of Matias Suarez and Marcos Acuna.
Napoli are already confirmed admirers. If his drive can prevent embarrassment at the hands of Colombia and Paraguay in Group B, they may gain unwanted company.
Club: FC Tokyo
Caps (goals): 1 (0)
The time has arrived for Japan’s latest prodigy to deliver.
Kubo’s career is in its infancy, only debuting for Japan last weekend as a substitute against El Salvador. But a mesmerising talent that has led to the predictable ‘Japanese Messi’ nickname has withstood remarkable complication.
From joining Barcelona’s fabled La Masia academy as a 10-year-old, to being at the centre of a scandal surrounding violations of FIFA policy on signing under-18s that led to a transfer ban four years later.
An enforced move home to FC Tokyo could not stunt the squat forward’s development, becoming part of the first team aged just 15. He now comes into the Copa on the back of four goals in his last four J1 League appearances, plus enduring links to Barca and Paris Saint-Germain back in Europe.
Japan’s long search for a new Hidetoshi Nakata should be at an end.
Position: Centre forward
Caps (goals): 9 (1)
Radamel Falcao’s supremacy at Colombia faces a grave threat.
There isn’t anything more Zapata could be doing to unseat one of his nation’s grandees. The hulking striker netted a career-best 23 times in 37 Serie A fixtures last term, propelling Atalanta into third place and entry into the Champions League for the first time in their history.
Some turnaround after he was not considered strong enough to progress from Colombia’s provisional squad for World Cup 2018.
A first goal in his ninth cap came as a substitute in Sunday’s 3-0 friendly thrashing of Peru. Pertinently, this came as a half-time substitute after Falcao succumbed to minor injury.
The temptation for boss Carlos Queiroz to hand Zapata a spot in the XI for the weekend’s Group B-opener is high.
France coach Didier Deschamps insisted any changes he makes for his side’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Andorra were planned before their shock defeat to Turkey.
Les Bleus were knocked off top spot in Group H on Saturday by Turkey, whose 2-0 win at the Torku Arena in Konya was their third-straight qualifying win.
Deschamps is expected to make up to five changes against minnows Andorra in a bid to freshen up his side.
“I had planned (for them), because it seems to me logical to bring freshness, physiologically and physically too,” Deschamps told a press conference reported by L’Equipe.
“I will make several changes, regardless of the performance of Saturday’s players.”
Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe came in for criticism after France’s defeat in Turkey, but Deschamps said all his players had under-performed.
“Apart from Hugo Lloris who was at his level, all the others were behind,” he said.
“You take more Kylian as a target, I see it from a collective point of view.
“He has been below (par). He did not receive the ball in the best conditions and his risk-taking was not rewarded as usual, but I will not have any special treatment for Kylian. I talk to him like all the other players.”
The atmosphere at Andorra’s national stadium, which has a capacity of just over 3,000, will be a far cry from the hostile reception Les Bleus received in Turkey.
Deschamps said his players had been made aware of the expected contrast.
“We go from one extreme to the other and our key word is to adapt,” he added.
“It will depend on us. We will not make that as an excuse. It’s up to us to do the job and take the three points.
“They are as important as those at stake in Turkey. We have the opportunity to take them. Do not miss it.”
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Spain maintained their perfect start to Euro 2020 qualifying as two penalties helped them to a 3-0 win over Sweden in Madrid.
Against an organised Swedish defence, Spain had to wait until the 64th minute to break the deadlock, with captain Sergio Ramos scoring from the spot to put his side ahead.
Spain were awarded a second penalty just over 20 minutes later, with Alvaro Morata stepping up to double the home side’s lead, before Mikel Oyarzabal secured all three points in the 87th minute.
A major talking point was the decision to start Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal, ahead of Manchester United’s David de Gea.
With a maximum 12 points from four matches, the result means Spain are five clear of Sweden and Romania at the top of Group F.