Like every tournament, this Copa America has also been a platform for some players to prove their worth. Many remember the wonder goal from James Rodriguez in the World Cup, a goal that earned him recognition. Sometimes all it takes a moment of such beauty to give one a big break. FootTheBall looks at such names that have produced quality moments in this Copa America and have been recognized as the breakout stars of the tournament.
1. NICOLAS GONZALEZ
This youngster from Argentina did not have the best start to his international career. His debut match against Ecuador saw him receive a red card. However, his performances since have proved enough to be kept in Lionel Scaloni’s plans.
The forward who likes to dominate the ball from the far wing has been a pinch of freshness in this Argentina side. Boasting excellent dribbling skills like his Argentinian teammates, the player has an eye for goal. Although his passing isn’t at par with the best, his finishing ability and crossing accuracy is commendable. Nicolas Gonzalez has secured a move to Fiorentina and is sure to shine in the Serie A.
2. BEN BRERETON
Ben Brereton is twenty-two years old and is only plying his trade as a striker in the EFL. Brereton is or at least was in no way a star when he put on the national team jersey. The Blackburn star is only nearing the double-figure mark for appearances for his national side. The former England national switched sides to play for Chile and made his debut of La Roja just this year.
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Born to a Chilean mother, the English born forward is eligible to play for either nation. He decided to play for his South American team and it looks like the decision has paid off. He scored his first international goal in the 1-0 win against Bolivia. A natural forward who uses his dribbling skills and finishing abilities to unease the opposition defence. This striker is likely to draw attention once he takes the flight back ‘home’.
3. GONZALO PLATA
Sporting CP winger Gonzalo Plata has been one of the better players in the Ecuador side this Copa. The right-winger who is adept at either flank can also be deployed as a central option. A capable goal-threat but more importantly someone who can open up space with his runs, Plata will soon find increasing importance in his teams.
In his four appearances in this edition of the tournament, the player has scored only one goal, but his performances were better than expected. At just twenty years of age, he has a lot of room for improvement and the time to do so. Quality European football should hone his skills and understanding of the game and if he maintains his raw genius when it comes to ball-playing ability, he is likely to get his big breakthrough.
4. PIERO HINCAPIE
Yet another Ecuador player that has caught the attention of many. Piero Hincapie, the left-footed Central defender has started all matches for his national side this tournament. His defensive presence has been a boon for Ecuador and apart from the match against Argentina, he was rock-solid at the back.
Hincapie averaged 2.2 tackles per game and intercepted at least once every game in this edition. The concentration levels of this player have also been commendable. Just nineteen years of age, the young central-defender is dynamic at the back. To be able to cope with the pace of Copa America’s forwards is no easy task and this young player has shown he is up to the task. A massive transfer battle is also seemingly brewing up for him, surely the young defender has a future in Europe.
5. MATIAS VINA
Matias Vina is a left-back for Brazilian Serie A club Palmeiras. At just 23 years of age, the defender is the kind of traditional wing-back many modern teams lack. His main focus is on preventing goals and while he may not be a prominent player going forward, his ability to win back possession and turn the game is noteworthy. His ball-winning ability surely made him one of the breakout stars of Copa America 2021.
Uruguay has not strived going forward and it was their defensive players that took notice in the matches they played. Although he has not featured in many games so far, it is only a matter of time before the player is given the green light in an ageing defence. Many clubs in Europe will surely keep their eyes on his development in the seasons to follow.
6. ANGEL ROMERO
Angel Romero played all five matches for Paraguay and bagged two goals in the process. The player plays for San Lorenzo in Argentina and only receives limelight when he puts on his Paraguayan jersey. A forward who creates quality chances, Paraguay often relies on his presence to create goalscoring opportunities. He was one of the breakout stars of this year’s Copa and played exceptionally in the absence of Almiron too.
Gran comienzo en la @CopaAmerica
Vamos @Albirroja 🇵🇾🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/cvoffKeV6H
— RomeroTeam (@RomeroTeam_) June 15, 2021
The 29-year-old likes to press high to win the ball back in advanced positions. His ability to find teammates and also to wriggle away from opposition pressure has made him un-droppable for his national side. Romero is sure to have gained some attention after his display for Paraguay and can likely impact Europe as well.
7. WILMAR BARRIOS
Zenit Saint Petersburg defensive midfielder Wilmar Barrios has been outstanding for Colombia in this Copa America. His magnificent performance against Argentina to hold off one of the best sides in the competition was commendable. With excellent positioning, reading of the game and tackling, Barrios is a force to reckon with in midfield.
— Wilmar Barrios (@wilmarBarrios8) June 30, 2021
The player averaged more than two intercepts and successfully tackled at least three times per ninety in the competition. Taking over sixty touches per game, the ball usually circulated through his legs in midfield. A solid defensive cover and a player who can regain control of the game, Barrios was excellent in midfield for Colombia.
8. AYRTON PRECIADO
Ayrton Preciado has been a blessing for Ecuador in midfield. The midfielder bagged two goals for his national side in this competition and has slowly gained attention. He featured twice in the team of the week. His presence in the flanks has been a threat to opposing defences. With his driving runs through the wings, Preciado played brilliantly for Ecuador.
The player averaged nearly 45 touches per game in the four appearances in the competition. His attacking play is commendable wherein he created a big chance every ninety minutes. Preciado also puts in a defensive shift, covering the wide areas and slotting centrally when needed. He is 26 years of age and his national team performance has surely put him on the radar of many clubs. Ecuador must be pleased that this Copa America at least two promising players had a breakout tournament and can surely go on to become stars.
9. LUIS DIAZ
Colombian winger Luis Diaz came to life in the big games of the competition. He was excellent in the match against Brazil and was even better in the semi-final against Argentina. The 24-year-old was one of the best players on the field, he was one of the stars for Los Cafeteros, this Copa was the perfect stage for him to have a breakout campaign. An exuberant display of football that has gained attention globally. Diaz dragged the game into the penalty shootout with his goal, giving Colombia a fighting chance to reach the finals. Although Colombia bowed out in the end, Diaz and co.’s performance will surely be remembered.
🇨🇴Orgulloso de ser colombiano🇨🇴 pic.twitter.com/GhRmpwaZDF
— Luis Fernando Díaz (@LuisFDiaz19) July 7, 2021
The midfield presence Diaz brings was vital to Colombia’s chances in the tournament. Diaz likes to roam the left flank, trying to create chances when in possession. The Porto winger has no problem when it comes to ball control. He is often an outlet when pressure is exerted on the Colombian midfield. A player who can use his range of passing and deft touches to find a way out of any defence. Diaz will surely be a talking point in this transfer window.
10. JUNIOR ALONSO
Paraguayan defender Junior Alonso was a commanding presence on the left side of the defensive line. Scoring a goal and chipping in defensively the player took 77 touches, a number many other Paraguayan players fail to match. Boasting a passing accuracy of nearly ninety per cent and with an eye for long balls, Alonso has also been the focal point of several attacks from a deep position.
Siempre juntos!! Victoria importante y clasificacion a 4tos!! #vamosparaguay @Albirroja 🇵🇾⚽️ pic.twitter.com/3qVZfhVLbs
— Junior Alonso (@junior_alonso4) June 25, 2021
The 28-year-old defender uses his experience to win tackles and gain possession. He was rarely dribbled past in the competition and usually covers up the ground if so. He has not made a single error that led to a goal or a goal scoring chance and remained solid in a leaky defence. Alonso will definitely draw some suitors in the months to follow.