Copa America 2015: 20 players to watch including Alexis Sanchez, Philippe Coutinho and more
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 11/06/15 4:28pm
Luis Suarez may be banned, but there will be no shortage of talent on show at this year's Copa America.
Here, we pick 20 players to watch when the tournament gets underway in Chile...
Alexis Sanchez – Chile
Can Arsenal ace Alexis Sanchez inspire the host nation at the 2015 Copa America? The attacker capped a fine first season in England with a superb FA Cup final goal against Aston Villa and goes into the tournament in promising form. With 16 goals and eight assists in the Premier League this term, Sanchez will be Chile’s major goal threat. They need him to fire to improve on their disappointing quarter-final exit in the 2011 edition.
Arturo Vidal – Chile
Champions League finalist Arturo Vidal has had a stellar season for Italian champions Juventus, and will play a crucial role in the centre of the park for Chile. If Sanchez is their goals-provider, it will be the job of Vidal to win back the ball and feed the forward. Fortunately for the tournament hosts, the 28-year-old has been excelling in a similar role for Juve all season.
Claudio Bravo – Chile
Chile have conceded nine in their last six, so Barcelona ‘keeper Claudio Bravo is likely to be called upon more frequently at the Copa America than he is for his club side. However, the 32-year-old captain, who has a record 89 caps, impressed at the 2014 World Cup and has shown his ability by relegating fellow Barca ‘keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to cup duties this season.
Rafael Marquez – Mexico
Mexican legend Rafael Marquez may be 36-years-old now, but his vast experience, garnered from 124 international appearances and over 500 outings for clubs including Monaco, Barcelona and Verona, will be key. The central defender captained his country to a valiant round of 16 exit to Holland at the World Cup, following a group stage 0-0 with Brazil and wins over Croatia and Cameroon.
Enner Valencia – Ecuador
Scorer of a goal of the season contender in his first Premier League season with West Ham, Enner Valencia provides Ecuador with pace on the break and a thunderbolt shot from outside the box. Four goals and three assists may be a disappointing return from 32 appearances for the forward but the 25-year-old has the potential to cause defences problems in Chile this summer.
Jefferson Montero - Ecuador
Swansea winger Jefferson Montero has shown his brilliant flank play at the Liberty Stadium this season, producing seven assists as a regular in Garry Monk’s side. Valencia will be among the Ecuador attackers hoping to profit from Montero’s raiding runs down the left.
Lionel Messi – Argentina
Winning the Golden Ball at the 2014 World Cup as player of the tournament would have been of little consolation to Lionel Messi, as, once again, he and his Argentina team-mates failed to land a major trophy. The Barcelona star does have an Olympic gold medal in his trophy cabinet – but will be desperate to add major international silverware to his growing collection of club medals. Given the incredible attacking talents at Argentina’s disposal – plus the genius of Messi – this could be their year.
Angel di Maria – Argentina
Angel di Maria may have endured a tough start to life in the Premier League after making his record-breaking move to Manchester United from Real Madrid last summer, but, back in South America, the midfielder will be aiming to remind the world of his remarkable talent. Di Maria played a part in all four goals Argentina scored against world champions Germany in September – and he’ll be hoping that form, rather than his disappointing displays for United, comes to the fore in Chile.
Carlos Tevez – Argentina
Former Manchester United and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez has enjoyed a renaissance in Italy, helping Juventus to a league and cup double, scoring 20 goals in Serie A. Exiled from the Argentina squad during Alejandro Sabella's reign, the tenacious attacker has returned to the fold under Gerardo Martino and will challenge City’s Sergio Aguero for a starting berth.
Sergio Aguero – Argentina
Aguero will be no easy man for Tevez to dislodge, however, after the brilliant goalscorer topped the Premier League charts with 26 strikes for Manchester City. A hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the Champions League when his club needed him most exemplified Aguero’s ability to shine in the big moments – don’t forget QPR 2012 – and Argentina will look to him to provide clinical finishing to Messi’s creativity.
Edinson Cavani – Uruguay
Twenty-seven goals in 50 appearances for PSG in all competitions this season demonstrates why Manchester United have been linked with a move for Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani. The forward will be shorn of his regular international strike partner Luis Suarez at the Copa America – who played an integral part in the nation’s 2011 triumph - so the 28-year-old will have to be on top form if Uruguay are to defend their crown.
Diego Godin – Uruguay
With Argentina (featuring Messi, Di Maria and Tevez) in their group, Uruguay will need to be at their best defensively if they are to snatch top spot and a more favourable knockout phase draw. Diego Godin will marshal the backline after helping Atletico Madrid concede the fewest number of goals in La Liga this season. He got just two minutes in the 2011 tournament – a late sub in the final – but will be central to the champions’ hopes this time around.
Philippe Coutinho – Brazil
Five goals and five assists don’t tell the full story of Philippe Coutinho’s impressive season for Liverpool, which earned him a spot in the PFA Team of the Year. Left out of the disastrous 2014 World Cup, the 22-year-old bears none of the mental scars some of his international team-mates took from that tournament on home soil and represents the next wave of creative Brazilian talent.
David Luiz – Brazil
Stunning goals and outrageous positional play were the story of David Luiz’s World Cup, as the PSG showed his ball-striking ability with a stunning free-kick against Colombia before being culpable for several mistakes in the 7-1 hammering by Germany. A star at PSG, where he’s just won a league and cup double, Luiz will no doubt have an eventful tournament in Chile – Brazil fans will just be hoping the the magic moments outweigh the errors.
Neymar – Brazil
Perhaps the only Brazil player to emerge with credit from the World Cup, Neymar has gone on to have a sensational season with Barcelona, more than doubling his goal return from 2013/14. In all, Neymar has 38 goals to his name this term as part of the best forward line in the world, alongside Messi and Suarez. Neymar is surely on course for a memorable Copa America campaign, buoyed by an immense season with his club.
Robinho – Brazil
The former Manchester City attacker has found his old form with a loan spell to his first club Santos from AC Milan this season – and with it a return to the Brazil fold. Now aged 31, the ex-Real Madrid forward may not have the speed of his younger years but his creativity remains and, perhaps, initially, from the bench, Robinho can offer his country a fresh option.
James Rodriguez – Colombia
Injuries have affected James Rodriguez’s first season at Real Madrid but the attacking midfielder has returned to football fitness now, just in time to help Colombia improve on some disappointing recent outings in the Copa America. The nation failed to get out of the groups as hosts in 2007 and exited in the first knockout phase in 2011. Can the former Monaco man inspire them this time around?
Radamel Falcao – Colombia
The mysterious Radamel Falcao. After scoring 153 goals in the previous five seasons for Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, the Colombia striker managed just four in 29 appearances on loan at Manchester United. Quite why the otherwise prolific frontman failed to fire at Old Trafford remains up for debate but, make no mistake, after missing out on the World Cup with injury and having his reputation tarnished in 2014/15, Falcao - named Colombia captain - will arrive in Chile with a point to prove.
Carlos Bacca – Colombia
Carlos Bacca seems ready in waiting to take Falcao’s place as Colombia’s premier striker after a stellar season for Sevilla. The forward, who netted two in the Europa League final as the Spanish side retained their crown, scored 20 times in La Liga and will offer his country plenty of threat up front, as they aim to escape Group C.
Jefferson Farfan – Peru
Jefferson Farfan was picked out by Diego Maradonna as one to watch at this year’s Copa America and there’s no question the Schalke winger has the ability to entertain. However, quite what form he will be in after missing the majority of the 2014/15 season with a knee injury remains to be seen. Peru were the surprise package in the 2011 edition, finishing third. A Farfan in full flow would boost their hopes of another successful tournament.