Copa America: Neymar absence key? Can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina? Arturo Vidal united Chile?

Copa America 2015

With the group stages out of the way, we look at what we have learned at the Copa America so far.

The usual thrills and spills of a competitive tournament have played out, and we know the line-up for the quarter-finals.

Hosts Chile take on Uruguay, surprise package Bolivia will be up against Peru, favourites Argentina face Colombia in arguably the tie of the round, while a Neymar-less Brazil will meet Paraguay.

Only four sides are eliminated in the opening stages, with Mexico, Ecuador, Jamaica and Venezuela heading home early.

But what have we learned so far? Who is on course to dethrone Uruguay and emerge as champions? And which stories could be played out in the last-eight ties and beyond?

Has Neymar cost Brazil dear?

Brazil's forward Neymar argues  with Colombians Jeison Murillo and Alexander Mejia.
Image: Neymar (right): Argues after headbutting Colombia's Jeison Murillo

It was a moment of lunacy from a superstar rarely far from the headlines. Brazil’s ‘Golden Boy’ went from hero to below zero after headbutting Jeison Murillo, earning him a ban that will see him miss the rest of the tournament, even if Brazil make the final.

This latest crop of fleet-footed Selecao stars is certainly not of the calibre of yesteryear, with Neymar the exception.

Now, in the Barcelona forward’s absence, Robinho looks set to be given a new lease of life, and impressed on his return to the side against Venezuela in Brazil’s final group game.

Willian (right) celebrates Brazil's second goal with Roberto Firmino.
Image: Roberto Firmino (left): Congratulated after scoring by Willian

Manchester United and Liverpool target Roberto Firmino netted his first goal in the 2-1 victory, but he has only showed glimpses of the talent that has attracted admiring glances from the Premier League duo.

Their vulnerability was there for all to see in the nervy final stages against Venezuela, with coach Dunga electing to over-populate his defence to hold onto their slender lead.

With a possible semi-final against their old foes Argentina to come, without their talisman, Brazil have slipped to third favourites behind hosts Chile, and the heartache from last summer’s Mineirao Massacre against Germany could resurface yet again.

Will Argentina finally click into gear?

Uruguay's forward Edinson Cavani (L) marks Argentina's forward Lionel Messi
Image: Lionel Messi (right): Is yet to show his best form

With such an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, just what is coach Gerardo Martino doing to stifle Argentina?

Five Under-20 World Cups have been bagged since 1995, but Argentina have faltered on the senior stage where it has mattered most, and with arguably the strongest squad on paper in world football, the 1993 Copa America is their last title.

Pre-tournament, Martino’s men won six out of eight, including ‘redemption’ over Germany in an emphatic 4-2 success.

However, in the group stages in Chile, they have thrown away a two-goal lead against Paraguay in a 2-2 draw, and enjoyed unconvincing 1-0 wins over reigning champions Uruguay and Jamaica.

Argentina's forward Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring against Uruguay
Image: Sergio Aguero: Netted twice so far

Captain and leading light Lionel Messi has only one solitary penalty to his name, as he once again has failed to replicate his scintillating club form for his country.

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has two in two, while Angel di Maria has shown only glimpses of what he can do.

The return of the popular Carlos Tevez to the competitive fold has caused distraction, with many calling for the in-form veteran to be handed a starting berth, despite a host of other talent ahead of him in the queue.

There are almost too many conundrums for Martino to deal with, and with Colombia and Brazil likely next opponents, their path to success will be tough.

Vidal created siege mentality?

Image: Arturo Vidal: Emotional after car crash

The incident had nothing to do with events on the pitch, but Arturo Vidal’s conduct has divided the host nation.

The Juventus midfielder escaped punishment after crashing his car in Santiago, allegedly under the influence of alcohol.

Former national team striker turned politician Leonardo Véliz, echoed what many Chileans believe in the aftermath of the incident.

“We are getting used to people committing wrong in all fields, above all in politics and football,” Veliz said. “In the end they try to justify it by giving excuses as if nothing has happened.”

While Neymar has been sent packing, Vidal was free to take to the field for Chile’s final match against Bolivia – coincidentally their best performance of the tournament as they romped to a 5-0 win.

Alexis Sanchez Chile
Image: Alexis Sanchez: Impressed for hosts so far

His team-mates have rallied around in support of the combative midfielder, and have exemplified even greater team spirit and togetherness as a result of the incident creating this siege mentality.

Away from the limelight, his team-mates have prospered, and some of the play in the build-up against Bolivia was nothing short of sublime.

With Alexis Sanchez firing on all cylinders, a Vidal let off the hook and a solid spine, could the hosts secure their first-ever Copa crown?

Time to end Falcao experiement?

Colombia's forward Radamel Falcao (L) vies for the ball with Venezuelan Ronald Vargas (R)
Image: Radamel Falcao (left) vies for the ball with Venezuelan Ronald Vargas

His season has been condensed into three games, with his frustration emblematic if his disappointing spell at Manchester United.

Not only has Radamel Falcao failed to find the scoresheet, he has offered very little threat as he has looked a striker very much shorn of confidence.

Coach Jose Pekermen has persisted with his man, though. Despite missing last summer’s World Cup, Falcao laid the foundations for this improved Colombia we see today, despite their laboured form so far.

His partnership with the enigmatic Teo Gutierrez is Pekerman’s preferred choice, despite in-form Carlos Bacca and Arsenal target Jackson Martinez waiting in the wings.

But, with a quarter-final with Argentina looming, is it time to drop Falcao, and give Bacca or Martinez the role as the side’s recognised No 9?

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