The 2015 Copa America kicks off today (June 11) and runs through July 4 when the final is played at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago. The Copa America is the oldest continental soccer tournament and pre-dates the World Cup by 14 years. The winner of the tournament will qualify for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia
The 10 teams from CONMEBOL – hosts Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, are joined by Mexico and Jamaica from CONCACAF in the group stage.
But it is the players that will out their special touch on the event and we look at the 9 who could be the difference between winning and losing.
Chile has never won the Copa America and will hope to change that as host this year and have a team that is capable of accomplishing that goal. The team is led by Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal.
Sanchez was a key to Arsenal’s run to 3rd place in the Premier League. He scored 25 goals in 52 games for the Gunners. The striker has scored 26 goals for Chile in his 80 caps with 2 of those goals coming in La Roja’s run to the Round of 16 in Brazil 2014.
A hard-nosed midfielder is one key to success and for Chile that player is Vidal. The Juventus player was a nuisance all day against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Final and that same tenacity will be on show in Chile. When not harassing the opposition, Vidal has the touch to score or to set up teammates.
Other Chile Player(s) to Watch: Charles Aranguiz, Claudio Bravo
After a short break from the Mexico national team, Rafael Marquez is back and hoping the CONCACAF country can play spoiler to the CONMEBOL party. The 36-old-year-old will not be the flashy player for El Tri Color but is the stabilizing factor at the back. He is the only player to captain a side in 4 different World Cups and with this being his final major international he hopes he can lead Miguel Herrera’s side to a good showing.
Other Mexico Player(s) to Watch: Jesus Corona
Arguably the player with the most pressure on him is Lionel Messi. The forward has helped his club side, Barcelona, to 24 trophies but has been unable to duplicate that success for Argentina with no international trophies won. The 27-year-old scored 4 goals as La Albiceleste made a run to the 2014 World Cup final and the final step for him will be to lift a trophy.
With so much focus on Messi, another player will have to step up for Argentina and Angel Di Maria could be the man of the moment. Di Maria was injured for the 2014 World Cup final with some hinting the result could have (or would have) been different if the Manchester United midfielder was fit and on the field. He has been a key in the side’s post World Cup successes.
Other Argentina Player(s) to Watch: Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Javier Pastore
After years playing second fiddle, Edinson Cavani will be the focus this summer for Uruguay with Luis Suarez suspended and Diego Forlan retired. The PSG striker finished the season strong with 10 goals in his final 7 Ligue 1 matches along with the game winner in the Coupe de France. Óscar Tabárez will no doubt be smiling and possible lifting the trophy if Cavani can produce for La Celeste. Uruguay has a Copa American record with 15 titles.
Other Uruguay Player(s) to Watch: Diego Godin
Neymar is ready to add to his silverware collection after scoring the 3rd goal in Barcelona’s 3-1 UEFA Champions League victory earlier this month and has told Brazil coach Dunga that he is ‘very happy’ and ready to go. That will be good news to the Dunga as he tries to re-build the Selecao after their disappointing World Cup last year with one of his first moves after taking the helm to hand the 22-year-old player the captain’s armband. Is Neymar ready to lead Brazil to a 9th Copa America title?
In his second stint as the head coach of Brazil, Dunga has always relied on a more defensive approach and that will start with David Luiz. Luiz has had some highs and lows recently for club and country but has the faith of his coach as a regular in the starting XI and even serving as captain in a friendly against Mexico.
Other Brazil Player(s) to Watch: Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho, Robinho
What have you done for me lately? That will be the question and pressure on Colombia’s James Rodriguez. The Real Madrid midfielder announced himself on the international stage last summer with his Golden Boot 6 goal performance in Brazil. Colombia coach Jose Pekerman has the core of the World Cup team back as well as a fit Radamel Falcao which has Colombians hoping they could win their 2nd Copa America title.
Other Colombia Player(s) to Watch: Carlos Bacca, Radamel Falcao
Visit the Copa America Chile 2015 Hub at World Soccer Shop for the best of gear from this year’s tournament.
Who do you have your eye on to have a break-out tournament or be the difference for their side taking home the title?