COPA AMERICA TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT

WHO MADE IT TO THE COPA AMERICA TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT AS ARGENTINA CLINCH A FIRST TITLE IN 28 YEARS?

ended his eternal wait for an international trophy with the Copa America triumph in 2021. The legendary Argentine international was ably supported in his cause by many Argentine players, unlike the previous editions. Messi himself turned back the years with some vintage displays throughout the tournament to end Argentina’s longstanding drought on the international stage. He is one of the first names in the Copa America Team of the Tournament.

Messi’s lack of an international trophy won’t be the part of any discussion now as the La Pulga enjoyed success at the Maracana. A team of the tournament drafted for the Copa America will have the majority of its players from Argentina, owing to their excellence. Other players who have enjoyed a fine month or two in and before the tournament also make the cut.

COPA AMERICA TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT

GOALKEEPER – EMILIANO MARTINEZ (ARGENTINA)

Emi Martinez was the perfect answer to Argentina’s long search for a solid goalkeeper. In fact, the 28-year-olds rise in the past year or so was incredible. An injury to Bernd Leno has opened up a spot for him at Arsenal and he took the opportunity with both hands. He made a move to Aston Villa this season and was in impeccable form. His form earned him a first international call-up along with a debut earlier this year.

Martinez provided a calm presence at the back for the Argentine defence. He has sharp reflexes and a great stopping position that helps him in goal. His biggest contribution came in the semis as he saved three penalties against Colombia in the shootout. Martinez also was unbeaten in goal in the final against Brazil as he pulled one top save after another.

RIGHT-BACK – JUAN CUADRADO (COLOMBIA)

The Juventus lynchpin is a versatile player. He plays as a winger or a wing-back for club and country. Having spent the season at Juventus as a wing-back, Cuadrado was deployed as a wide midfielder in the Colombian setup. In the absence of James Rodriguez, he took the onus of chance creation.

Cuadrado did step up accordingly as he ran the show for Colombia. He was a dangerous presence on the right flank with his inch-perfect crossing and skills. Cuadrado scored the equalizer at 1-0 in their 3rd place playoff against Peru from a direct free-kick. He also assisted Luis Diaz in the game against Brazil. Cuadrado was also proficient in defence. He recorded 45 recoveries throughout the tournament showcasing his high work rates in key areas.

CENTRE-BACK – THIAGO SILVA (BRAZIL)

The Champions League winning centre-back with Chelsea was in fine form before the Copa. After a sluggish start to life at Stamford Bridge, Silva settled in wonderfully. Thomas Tuchel’s appointment worked wonders for him as he was a rock at the back for them. Silva like always made a seamless transition to the Brazil national team.

With Silva and Marquinhos at the back, the Selecao have conceded only three goals at the tournament. Even this sturdy display wasn’t enough to secure the title for them. Silva was at his usual best. Strong in the air and early to read the danger. His tackling was on cue and thwarted many dangerous attacks.

CENTRE-BACK – CRISTIAN ROMERO (ARGENTINA)

The youngster’s rise has been phenomenal in the past three years. From the local leagues in south America to Champions League football in three years he grew quickly. Gian Piero Gasperini coached him perfectly to develop Romero into a modern-day centre-back at Atalanta. He was worthily included in the La Albiceleste’s squad.

Though injuries have restricted him to only three appearances at the tournament, Romero showed what he was capable of. He was always at his dominant best whenever he played. He made it back to the lineup for the final and justified his selection. Romero marshaled the defence expertly as they kept the Brazilians at the bay and protected their one-goal lead. No wonder he’s linked with clubs like Manchester United already.

LEFT-BACK – PERVIS ESTUPINAN (ECUADOR)

Estupinan had high hopes going into LaLiga this season. The attacking left-back moved to Villarreal from Osasuna and hoped to replicate his form. However, he failed to hit the stride as he wasn’t able to nail a regular starting squad. He only played a squad role in their Europa League triumph.

Back in his continent at the Copa with his Ecuador, Estupinan showed us why he was rated so highly by a few of the game’s elite. The rampaging left-back was a useful attacking on the left and was ever-present. He started all five games for Ecuador and registered the highest number of crosses per 90(9.6) at the tournament. Estupinan also had 2.4 key passes per match which was the highest amongst defenders.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD – WILMAR BARRIOS (COLOMBIA)

Few expected Zenit St Petersburg to perform as he has at the tournament. He enjoyed a title-winning campaign in Russia with close to 30 appearances in the goal. Though he was never a goal threat in any way he was a solid defensive midfielder.

Barrios started all seven of Colombia’s games in the heart of their midfield four as a destroyer. He perfected the role as he was a constant menace to the opposition’s attackers. Barrios sticks with the attacker and won’t let him go. He also makes crucial tackles and interceptions. Barrios never shies away from doing the dirty work and taking a card for the team when required.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD – RODRIGO DE PAUL (ARGENTINA)

De Paul once said that he’ll go to war for Messi. Boy did he keep his word. The high-flying Argentine midfielder was Udinese’s Starman in the past few seasons. He had to close 10 goals and assists in the Serie-A. De Paul earned a deserving move to Atletico Madrid this summer.

The 27-year-old was an ever-present in the Albiceleste’s midfield. After a slow start to the tournament, he adjusted to the tempo of the game. His vision and the ability to pick a pass like Lionel Messi has reduced the burden on Messi himself. De Paul laid Di Maria’s winner in the final with a perfectly weighted ball. He was in similar genius form throughout the tournament.

RIGHT ATTACKING MIDFIELD – LIONEL MESSI (ARGENTINA)

What else can be said about Messi that is not said earlier? Sometimes one can run out of superlatives to describe the man or should we say an alien? Messi ended the league season with Barcelona on a high and was charged to take Argentina to a first international trophy in 28 years. He ended the drought and his quest for an international trophy is now complete.

Messi opened his account with a delicious free-kick against Chile in their opener. He then set up Guido Rodriguez’s winner against Uruguay. Messi’s last goal involvement was assisting Lautaro Martinez in the semis. He ended the tournament with 4 goals and 5 assists and won the best player award.

CENTRAL ATTACKING MIDFIELD – JR (BRAZIL)

The electric Paris Saint Germain forward had a below-par season with them in Europe. They fell short in the Champions League once again and failed to defend their league title. Neymar was determined to shrug off the disappointment with a memorable Copa campaign. He also had a strong motive as he missed their Copa triumph in 2019 due to an injury.

When Neymar dons the famous Brazilian yellow, he becomes a different player. He scored two goals and assisted three times for the Selecao. Neymar is close to breaking Pele’s coring record for Brazil. Despite being their best player, there was also a sense of frustration in his game. Neymar wasn’t in his best form in front of goal and wasted chances uncharacteristically. He wasn’t able to conjure anything in the final as his side fell to Argentina.

LEFT ATTACKING MIDFIELD – LUIS DIAZ (COLOMBIA)

The Porto winger had a modest season with the Dragons in the Liga NOS. He was expected to play second fiddle in attack to Colombia’s star strikers Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel. However, the stars had a subpar tournament and it was Diaz who took charge and the responsibility of scoring goals.

Diaz scored four goals in the tournament from an incredible 10 shots with a 40% conversion rate. His goals were things of beauties too. He scored a fantastic bicycle kick against Brazil and a screamer in the third-place playoff against Peru to seal third place. Diaz enjoyed playing on the shoulder of the last man as he cut in from the left-wing onto his stronger right foot.

STRIKER – GINALUCA LAPADULA (PERU)

The Italian-born Peruvian striker can be said as the breakout star for Peru. Lapadula who plays for Benevento is a late bloomer for both club and country. He was with Milan in 2016 and failed to impress them. He toured Italian clubs before settling with Benevento. His stable form earned a callup for Peru in 2020.

Ever since a breakthrough at the age of 30 for his national team, Lapadula didn’t look back. He stuck with the squad and earned a callup for the Copa. He scored three goals and assisted once for them as they reached semis at the tournament. Lapadula’s national career has no doubt taken off in the latter parts of his career.

THE LINEUP

4-2-3-1

Martinez;
Cuadrado, Silva, Romero, Estupinan;
Barrios, de Paul;
Messi, Neymar Jr, Diaz;
Lapadula

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