Copa America 2016: Six players who have starred in the United States
By Ed Tarlton
Last Updated: 25/06/16 5:32pm
Ahead of the Copa America final between Argentina and Chile at 1am on Monday morning, we pick out six players who have starred at the tournament...
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Man of the match awards: 3
Lionel Messi has been outstanding on Argentina's route to the final. After being an unused substitute in their opening match due to a back injury, he returned to action in their clash against Panama as a 61st-minute substitute.
Six minutes later, he was on the score sheet, taking advantage of a defensive mishap to calmly extend Argentina's lead to 2-0. Indeed, his half an hour of playing time was something of a masterclass, earning him the man of the match award. He added two more goals to his tally that night, the second a sublime free-kick, to announce himself to this year's tournament in style.
Though he failed to add his haul in their 3-0 win over Bolivia, his hat-trick was enough to see him finish as Group D's leading scorer. His legendary status in his homeland was further enchanced the quarter-finals, when his 60th-minute strike saw him equal the all-time Argentina goalscoring record of Gabriel Batistuta
Speaking afterwards, the Barcelona forward played down the achievement, saying: "For me the most important thing is the result." But it is another milestone in an already glittering career.
His performance also yielded assists for team-mates Gonzalo Higuaín and Erik Lamela, who helped round off a comfortable 4-1 win over Venezuela, to send La Albiceleste through to the semi-finals.
There, against host nation the USA, he assisted Ezequiel Lavezzi for the opening goal, before surpassing Batistuta's record in spectacular style, curling a 25 yard free kick beyond the helpless dive of goalkeeper Brad Guzan for his team's second. They ran out 4-0 winners to secure a place in the final.
Eduardo Vargas (Chile)
Man of the match awards: 2
Vargas has exceeded expectations having come into the tournament on the back of an average season in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim, where 24 appearances yielded just two goals and three assists.
Yet his contributions for country have been anything but ordinary of late. His first two appearances against Argentina and Bolivia did little to suggest any upturn in form, but he exploded to life against Panama, netting twice in a 4-2 victory, including a powerful header into the far corner.
If his sudden resurgence there was unexpected, his performance in his country's knock-out game against Mexico, winners of Group C, was little short of exceptional.
In an unprecedented 7-0 victory, Mexico's heaviest ever defeat at a major championships, the 26-year-old scored four times, moving into first place in the race for the tournament's golden boot.
The feat was even more remarkable given that he didn't find the net until the 44th minute. "It was unforgettable," he said. "In my career this is the first time I've scored four goals."
His performance left him with 10 career goals in the Copa America, drawing him level with Enrique Hormazábal's record for a Chilean, the first person to match the record in the 60 years since it was set.
Though he didn't score in the semi-final against Colombia, he'll certainly be a player Argentina will need to watch out for in Sunday's final.
Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)
Man of the match awards: 0
Higuain has been second fiddle to Messi throughout much of the tournament, but has quietly gone about his business in a productive fashion.
He failed to find the net in the group stages, but he made amends in the knock-out rounds, scoring the opening two goals in their quarter-final win over Venezuela and two more in their semi-final victory against the United States.
An assist en route to the final completes his attacking contributions thus far, but now, having hit form, there may be more to come in Sunday's final.
Higuain is likely to be targeted by a host of clubs after his stunning season with Napoli, and another good performance against Chile could attract more suitors.
Clint Dempsey (United States)
Man of the match awards: 1
Dempsey has become something of a forgotten man for Premier League viewers since joining Seattle Sounders from Tottenham in 2013.
He was able to recapture his form back in his homeland, however, scoring 28 times in 65 appearances for the MLS side, and the former Fulham player made a big impression at this summer's Copa America.
Following his side's opening game defeat to Colombia, Dempsey netted in both remaining group games and the subsequent quarter-finals to help his side make it three wins from three, contributing two assists in the process.
The 33-year-old is now second in his country's all-time scorers list, and USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann sung his praises after his man of the match performance in their 2-1 win over Ecuador in the quarter-finals.
"Clint is special," he said. "He showed that tonight. He showed that the last couple weeks and he's showed that throughout his entire career. This performance from him tonight in front of his home crowd was unbelievable."
Though unable to find a way through the defence of competition favourites Argentina at the semi-final stage, the tournament has undoubtedly been a reminder of his enduring quality.
Phillipe Coutinho (Brazil)
Man of the match awards: 1
The attacking midfielder had a tournament to remember, in one his team would rather forget.
The Brazilians parted company with manager and former World Cup winning captain Dunga following their poor showing, which saw them fail to get out of the group stage.
But while Liverpool talisman Coutinho's efforts were confined to just three games, he still managed to finish as top scorer in Group B, firing three in his side's 7-1 demolition of Haiti.
The first, a stunning drive from over 20 yards, gave his side the lead on 14 minutes. A tap-in followed, before he hammered a curling shot into the far post, again from outside the box, to round off the win and secure the man of the match award.
It was a bitterly disappointing campaign for Brazil, but Coutinho was one of few players to emerge with any credit.
Enner Valencia (Ecuador)
Man of the Match Awards: 2
Another player who might perhaps have hoped to go further in the competition, Valencia first came to widespread attention following his performances in the 2014 World Cup.
He didn't disappoint here either, scoring twice in the group stages to help Ecuador make it through to the quarter-finals.
Following a credible 0-0 draw with Brazil in their first group game, Valencia scored his first, beating the offside trap before neatly chesting then volleying the ball home to halve his side's 0-2 deficit against Peru. They eventually drew level to snatch a point.
He found the net in his next game as well, where he opened the scoring after 11 minutes, racing onto a through ball before calmly slotting past the advancing goalkeeper. Two assists followed as he secured his second man of the match award in as many games.
Though his run in the tournament was cut short after Ecuador were knocked out by the United States in the last eight, two goals, two assists and two man of the match awards is a good return for a player whose team only won one game in the whole competition.
Follow the Copa America final between Argentina and Chile - kick-off at 1am on Monday morning, UK time - with our live blog on skysports.com and the Sky Sports apps.