The 2011 Copa America will be more than just a warm-up for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Argentina, as hosts, begin as favourites and with the motivation to gain a manner of revenge over a Brazil side that brushed La Albiceleste aside in the 2007 final, scoring a comfortable 3-0 win.
While stars like Lionel Messi, Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Silva and Alexandre Pato are known the world over due to their exploits in European football, the 2011 Copa America should introduce another generation of South American stars.
We look at the Players to Watch at the Copa America in Argentina:
Sergio Romero – Argentina (AZ Alkmaar, Holland) – Goalkeeper
The 24-year-old landed in Holland with AZ in the 2007/08 season and has impressed. Tall, athletic and confident between the sticks, Romero will surely give his all if handed the opportunity in his homeland. The keeper played in all La Seleccion’s matches at the last World Cup in South Africa after a notable display in the country’s Under-20 World Cup victory in Canada in 2007.
Pablo Armero – Colombia (Udinese, Italy) – Defender
Also 24, Armero moved to Brazil to turn out for Palmeiras after gaining experience in Colombia with America de Cali. However, it was not long before the defender caught the attention of Italian side Udinese, a club renowned for their youth-spotting skills, and the Italians bought the Colombian last summer. Armero enjoyed a superb season at the Friuli, playing 31 games and scoring two goals. A quick and skilful left back, the defender helped Udinese finish in the Champions League qualifying spots in Serie A. Armero can sometimes struggle to control his temper though, especially at crucial times.
Cristian Zapata – Colombia (Udinese, Italy) – Defender
After a good season with Udinese – just like countryman Armero – Zapata has begun to attract the attention of some of Europe’s top clubs. The 25-year-old centre back still looks likely to remain in Udine for another season though, with the lure of Champions League football proving great. Zapata can also play as a right back, but he excels in the centre of the defence.
Arturo Vidal – Chile (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany) – Defender/Midfielder
Vidal is a versatile young player, able to operate across the defence and also in midfield (on occasion he has played as a trequartista). The Chilean has been with Bayer Leverkusen since 2007, but his progress has now started to cause scouts from across Europe to book passage to the BayArena. A good Copa America will only increase his value.
Vidal won three titles with Colo Colo in Chile and found the back of the net ten times with Leverkusen last season. He also picked up a bronze medal with Chile at the Under-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007.
Paulo Henrique Ganso – Brazil (Santos, Brazil) – Midfielder
Ganso is one of the most promising players in Brazil’s new generation of talents. Indeed, he could be the man who will lead the country’s midfield at the 2014 World Cup, when the Brazilians host the tournament.
A skilful midfield schemer, Ganso enjoys playing behind the forwards in a trequartista role. The Santos man has won two Paulistas with his club and recently picked up the Copa Libertadores, beating Penarol in the final. Much interest in his services has arrived from AC Milan, with the club’s vice-president Adriano Galliani hoping to buy the midfielder in the 2012 January transfer window. Ganso is young, but has suffered more than his fair share of injuries; this is the only negative surrounding the starlet.
Javier Pastore – Argentina (Palermo, Italy) – Forward
A talent in the mould of Brazilian midfielder Kaka, who excelled during his time at Milan despite two years of misery at Real Madrid. Both Los Blancos and Inter have shown interest in Pastore, and it is not hard to see why. The Argentine has just completed the second of two very impressive seasons with Palermo. Elegant and skilful, Pastore enjoys playing in a trequartista role. He was not handed too many chances by former Argentina coach Diego Maradona, but new boss Sergio Batista looks set to provide him with an opportunity to shine.
Neymar – Brazil (Santos, Brazil) – Forward
Neymar has been presented to the world as Brazil’s new phenomenon, another Pele, and Europe’s elite are doing daily battle for his services. The striker recently won the Copa Libertadores with Santos (the same side Pele represented in Brazil) and is tipped to soon equal Lionel Messi as the world’s best player. However, everything lies before the 19-year-old to achieve, with his temperament having been called into question on occasion. If Brazil are to succeed at the Copa America, much will undoubtedly be down to Neymar.
Alexis Sanchez – Chile (Udinese, Italy) – Forward
Currently being chased by Barcelona, Chile star Sanchez has caused scouts to take out a season ticket to Udinese’s Friuli Stadium. Sanchez helped the Zebrette finish fourth in Serie A this season, meaning Champions League football for the club in the new campaign. The forward will likely not be there to see it however, and a fine performance at the Copa America will only serve to further introduce his exceptional talent to the footballing world.
Abel Hernandez – Uruguay (Palermo, Italy) – Forward
Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan are the forwards set to take the lion’s share of the plaudits for La Celeste, especially after helping the country to fourth at last summer’s World Cup. However, beyond the stars, Abel Hernandez is a promising player. The 20-year-old forward enjoyed a good season with Palermo in Serie A, finding the back of the net eight times and he could yet feature in the Copa America as part of Oscar Tabarez’ impressive attacking unit.
Felipe Caicedo – Ecuador (Levante, Spain) – Forward
Officially a Manchester City player, Caicedo spent the whole of last season on loan at Spanish club Levante. In La Liga, he helped Levante avoid relegation, scoring 13 times in 27 games. When Ecuador boss Reinaldo Rueda opts to deploy a 4-2-3-1 system (the coach normally plays 4-4-2) Caicedo is picked as a long striker up front, a sign of how important he is to his country.
>> 2011 Copa America Preview – Group A
>> 2011 Copa America Preview – Group B
>> 2011 Copa America Preview – Group C
>> Inside Betting: 2011 Copa America Top Goalscorer
>> Inside Betting: 2011 Copa America Outright
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