From the get go, one thing that many observers want to know about major sporting tournaments such as the Copa America is which players will light up the big stage. The Copa America has a history of showcasing some of South America’s brightest young talents before they are catapulted to superstardom.
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For the purpose of this list, we should clarify early on that some players will be left out. Although they fit all the criteria needed in terms of age and ability, the likes of James Rodriguez and Neymar will be overlooked as their resumes are pretty well-known by now. The same can be said of Erik Lamela, Philippe Coutinho and Marquinhos whose talents are more renowned.
With the fine-print out the way, let’s get on with it.
Here is Sport360’s pick of the players who can use this tournament as a stepping stone to go on to bigger and better things.
DIEGO ROLAN (Uruguay/Bordeaux)
Many young players will have a great deal of pressure placed on them at this Copa America and Bordeaux forward Diego Rolan is certainly among them. The 22-year-old is one of 10 new players tasked with re-energising Uruguayan football by national team coach Oscar Tabárez.
Ever since his breakthrough year at Defensor Sporting and the Uruguayan Under-20 side back in 2011, Rolan has been touted as the long-term replacement for legends Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. Having beaten Abel Hernández to the punch, Rolan’s role as an integral member of the squad has become more defined and expectations have been raised.
Do not be surprised one bit if Diego Rolan is one of the surprise revelations of the #CA2015 …
— Juan Arango (@JuanG_Arango) June 9, 2015
If that wasn’t enough, replacing Suarez and wearing his number in Chile means that any mishaps in the tournament will be scrutinised. With an unrelenting Uruguayan media watching on, it could well be make or break for Rolan.
EDWIN CARDONA (Colombia/Monterrey)
EDWIN CARDONA pic.twitter.com/k4MQnOBu7P
— Manuel (@manueldelverde) May 30, 2015
Yes, eyes will be focused on Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez but right now there are few players with the technical abilities of Edwin Cardona. The Medellin native initially had a tough time adapting to playing in Mexico’s Liga MX with Monterrey but still managed six goals in 12 games in his first season with the club.
It was when coach Antonio Mohamed took over and started to settle a squad mired in instability, that Cardona began to assert himself, leading Monterrey back into play-off contention.
Edwin Cardona by far my favorite player on Colombia
— älee (@AlejandroT_81) June 10, 2015
Cardona’s skill is striking. His ability to drift past defenders and unlock defences make him an exciting target for many European sides and his stock can only rise with a successful Copa tournament. The 22-year-old has all the tools to be a world-class player but, like many South Americans, one aspect of his game threatens to hold him back: his temperament.
Cardona has lost his head for no rhyme or reason on a number of occasions with a back catalogue of arguing with officials and kicking opponents threatening to put off potential suitors. Despite this, Cardona is capable of making some special things happen with his right foot, which is why Jose Pekerman has taken a chance on him.
JOSEF MARTINEZ (Venzuela/Torino)
Venezuela are one of the ageing sides in this Copa America, with squad for the most part is filled with veterans looking to replicate the success that they had back in 2011 when they reached the semi-finals.
Josef Martinez hasn’t got enough credit at Torino this year. Solid under the radar pick up.
— Gregory Caltabanis (@GCaltabanis_27) February 22, 2015
A couple of young players have emerged in the past few years in Venezuelan football, but none have had the immediate impact of Josef Martinez. Moving from Caracas to Young boys of Switzerland in 2012, he struggled to break through but moved to FC Thun and then on to Torino in Serie A.
‘Super Martinez’, as he was nicknamed after his goal against Copenhagen in the Europa League, also showed signs of his promise in doses throughout the past Serie A season and will be a vital option off the bench for Venezuela. He will be guided by his former coach at Caracas FC, Noel Sanvicente and although not technical on the ball, he may be used as a second forward and this could be the tournament where he makes some inroads towards becoming Venezuela’s man up top when World Cup qualifiers begin in October.
JOSE MARIA GIMENEZ (Uruguay/Atletico Madrid)
‘Josema‘ had a baptism of fire with the senior national team at last summer’s World Cup against England but won many plaudits both at home and abroad for his display. The 20-year-old centre-back has shown many in South America that he can become be one of the world’s best defenders in the future, a position strengthened by a superb campaign with Atletico Madrid. Gimenez’s performances in both the Copa del Rey and La Liga against Real Madrid further proved he is the real deal.
@DaveHendrick_AI why dont we go get Jose Maria Gimenez from athletico. Monster of a defender
— Columbus (@King_H_VI) May 17, 2015
Despite his young age, Gimenez has already built himself a glowing CV having played in the Uruguay Under-20s side that lost out to France in the 2013 U20 World Cup final and has been dubbed ‘the new Obdulio Varela’ – high praise indeed. His character and composure belies his youth and at times his technical capability and penchant for a set-piece are overlooked.
DERLIS GONZALEZ (Paraguay/FC Basel)
Paraguay have struggled to undertake a changing of the guard over the past decade and it has held the national team back. This is highlighted by the fact that the Albirroja failed to capitalise on claiming silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004 (not one of that squad features in this tournament).
— LINESMAN (@Lines_Man) February 18, 2015
The hopes of Paraguayan football have now fallen into the hands of FC Basel striker Gonzalez, who has an abundance of potential. His speed and quick decision making ensure he stands out this season and even after a resounding Champions League defeat against Real Madrid, Gonzalez was the man remembered for scoring his side’s only goal of the game.
JESUS CORONA (Mexico/FC Twente)
When you talk to Mexican experts about Jesus Corona, the words “daring” and “different” are often the first mentioned. The former Monterrey youth player saw his stock quickly rise under Victor Manuel Vucetich after making his professional debut with Los Rayados and despite not being eulogised in Europe as many other South Americans, ‘Tecatito’ is one of the most consistent Mexican footballers at the minute.
David Luiz and Jesús Corona of Mexico compete for the ball during the Match between Brazil and Mexico pic.twitter.com/bjDQ5l35Tf
— David PSGeezer (@davidbrlove) June 7, 2015
Corona loves to run at defenders, a trademark of some of South America’s finest players. Add to that the FC Twente man’s ability to change direction at speed, push full-backs towards their own goal, precise distribution and unselfishness in front of goal and Corona has all the makings of a superstar. If Mexico take the bull by the horns at this tournament, it could be an interesting one for the 22-year-old.
YORDY REYNA (Peru/Red Bull Leipzig)
Peruvian football has long been known as producing some of the most technically gifted players in South America. Their silky touch and movement is easily comparable with the most exciting examples from Brazil and Argentina. But that is where the similarities end. Youth programs have been abandoned for the past decade and the disorganisation at the Peruvian Football Federation has made it a near-impossible task to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1982.
Brilliant run from Yordy Reyna, his shot tipped wide. The Leipzig youngster looks a talent
— James_UTL (@TheOpladenWay) April 24, 2015
Despite this, there are players like Reyna who still emerge. Reyna is looked at by many as the player to lead Peruvian football into the future but, unfortunately for him, that future is as uncertain as Peruvian football’s. Reyna, alongside Andy Polo and Real Madrid Castilla player Cristian Benavente, is looking to regain his path back to prominence within the national team, having been haunted by rumours of partaking in the Lima nightlife a little too often for many peoples’ liking.
Reyna is without a doubt a player that has a great deal of skill but he needs to focus on life on the pitch if he is to fulfill his potential.
— the_barister (@turaki_jr) June 6, 2015
When Real Madrid left-back Marcelo went down with a back injury a week and a half before the start of the tournament, Dunga was quick to place faith in Geferson. After three years in Internacional’s youth squad, he was given a chance in the first team earlier this year and his performances made him a viable option at left-back for both club and country.
His growth has seen him quickly become one of the most consistent performers for Inter at state, Brasileirao and even Copa Libertadores levels. Geferson is well liked by Dunga and could end up being Brazil’s first-choice left-back for years to come.
JONATHAN RODRIGUEZ (Uruguay/Benfica)
First impressions are the hardest to make, just ask Jonathan Rodriguez. A timid character, Rodriguez often shies away from cameras but is a completely different entity on the pitch, where he is full of verve and energy.
The aforementioned Diego Rolan is another Uruguayan billed with attempting to fill Luis Suarez’s large boots at this year’s Copa America but he is being chased hard by Rodriguez. The former Penarol striker has a chance to make big waves on the international stage and is nearing the Benfica first team. A strong showing in Chile could see that transition hastened.
JUAN CAZARES (Ecuador/Banfield)
Juan Cazares has already suffered some of the highest highs and lowest lows at club level. Relegation at River Plate and Banfield in a short space of time do not read particularly well. However, Cazares is still held in high regard in Argentina.
Like James Rodriguez – a former Banfield man himself – Cazares has shown streaks of brilliance for his club but not on a consistent enough basis. The Ecuadorian has sparked Banfield back to life since their return to the top-flight as the team found mid-table stability, his booming long drives and dribbling ability seeing him go viral online.
If there is one area that Ecuador has been particularly crying out for quality, it is up front. Cazares will provide an interesting option alongside Jefferson Montero should Gustavo Quinteros give him the nod.
GIORGIAN DE ARRASCAETA (Uruguay/Cruzeiro)
When this young man arrived at Confins Airport in Belo Horizonte, he was greeted by hundreds of Cruzeiro fans screaming at the top of their lungs to welcome him like a legend of the game. Having been no stranger to immense expectation, this nonetheless felt different to the pressure he faced at old club Defensor Sporting.
Diego Rolan and Giorgian De Arrascaeta, #9 and #10 respectively for Uruguay in the Copa America. Keep an eye out for them.
— Nanam A. (@luckylights_) June 7, 2015
De Arrascaeta was tasked with replacing one of the best players of the past two seasons in Brazilian football – the Al Ahli-bound Everton Ribeiro. And since arriving in Brazil, De Arrascaeta’s star has shined brightly. His progression into the national team has been a slower one but he is now a legitimate competitor for Nicolas Lodeiro’s position.
Capable of playing on the left wing or through the middle, De Arrascaeta has an eye for a pass that those playing around him relish. Named after a prize-winning thoroughbred of his father’s, De Arrascaeta is furlongs ahead of the pack.
Share your views on these picks and who you think will light up the Copa America using #360fans on Twitter.
Argentina conduct their first training session in Chile ahead of the Copa America, at La Serena.