On 11 June, Copa America 2015 kicks-off in style as hosts Chile take on Ecuador at Estadio Nacional in the country’s capital Santiago. With the 23-man squads recently announced, here’s a look at the key attacking threat in each side.
Argentina – Lionel Messi
There’s not much I can say about this man that you don’t already know. Messi comes in to the tournament on the back of some fantastic form with 11 goals in his last eight games, including braces in the Copa del Rey final and against European giants Bayern Munich.
The Argentine attacker has netted against ten of the 12 teams participating in the tournament, having only not scored against Bolivia and Jamaica. With his birthday falling in the middle of the tournament, what better way of celebrating it than lifting the trophy as captain 10 days later?
Bolivia – Marcelo Moreno
From the well-known to the not-so-well-known. Marcelo Moreno is undoubtedly Bolivia’s star man and he’s got a taste for traveling. The 27-year-old has led the line in England, Ukraine, Germany, Brazil and China, having been through short loan spells with Werder Bremen and Wigan Athletic on the back of a relatively underwhelming €9m move to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Currently plying his trade at Changchun Yatai in the Chinese Super League, Moreno is set to make his 50th appearance for the Bolivian national team at Copa America, looking to add to his tally of 12 goals. At 6’2, Moreno may not be the most technically gifted footballer at the tournament, but he’s a natural-born goalscorer and takes a mean free kick to boot.
Brazil – Neymar
No surprises here. The Brazilian heart-throb carried Scolari’s men on his shoulders at the 2014 World Cup in his homeland, perhaps a little too evidently with his tournament being cut short due to back injury.
Now under the guidance of new manager Dunga, Neymar will be looking to improve on an international goalscoring record that dwarves even that of his club-mate Messi, with 43 goals in 62 appearances for Canarinho. The Barcelona-based forward has joined Messi in lifting three trophies already this season after winning The UEFA Champions League, La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
Chile – Alexis Sánchez
I doubt many jaws dropped when Sanchez’s name popped up. The Chilean has had a sensational first season at Arsenal, acclimatizing to the Premier League as though he’d played there all his life. As a player that never stops, you can expect to see the Tocopilla-born ace carry his domestic form into Copa America, where he will be performing in front of home crowds playing for the tournament hosts.
Despite the Chilean national team lacking the sort of creativity the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey provide, Sanchez is a man who can make goals for himself – as proven by his wonder strike in the FA Cup final.
Colombia – James Rodríguez
There are some big names in this Colombia side, but James is the main man. After an incredible World Cup in 2014, his Madrid move has seen him hit new heights, becoming key to the side’s successes. The ex-Porto playmaker has notched 13 goals and 13 assists in 29 games in La Liga this season and boasts slightly smaller figures for the national side, with 12 goals and eight assists in 32 games.
For those Football Manager players out there, it will seem as though James has been around for a long time, but he’s still just 23 years old. This suggests that the best is yet to come and we could well see that when Colombia kick off their first game on 14 June against Venezuela.
Ecuador – Enner Valencia
In an Ecuador squad short of notable names, the West Ham forward will need to bring his ‘A game’ if La Tricolor are to progress past the group stages this year. With Michael Arroyo, Antonio Valencia and Felipe Caicedo all missing out due to injury and fitness problems, it is up to Enner to be the star.
In his 17 appearances for the national team he has scored 11 goals, including goals against Bolivia and Mexico, both in Ecuador’s Copa America group. Despite his blistering start to life in the Premier League, Valencia has struggled to make an impact in the second half of the season, coinciding with West Ham’s plummet from top four to bottom half. There will be no better chance for him to put the second half of the season behind him and kick on ahead of a new season under a new manager at Upton Park.
Jamaica – Darren Mattocks
Now we venture back to the lesser known names of the tournament. Darren Mattocks of Vancouver Whitecaps is The Reggae Boyz’s most prolific forward, with eight goals in his 22 international appearances. Although he’s struggled for any sort of extended game time in MLS this season, Mattocks has scored in both of the games in which he has completed a full 90 minutes.
Jamaica are unquestionably going to face a struggle to qualify from a group also containing Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, so there will be no immense pressure on Mattocks to perform, but it will be important to put up a fight against the big names in order to return to club football with his head held high.
Mexico – Raúl Jiménez
The minutes have been few and far between for Atlético Madrid’s Raúl Jiménez this season, tallying just 589 in La Liga since joining for a fee of €11M last summer. In that time he has scored just a solitary goal, but could build on that next season if rumours of a Mario Mandzukic departure come to fruition.
Despite a stuttering start to his career in Spain, Jiménez hit four in four for Club America in Apertura during July and August, prior to his move. On top of this, the 24-year-old has six goals for the Mexican national team since his first call up in 2013. With Mexico missing Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez, it’s important that Jiménez makes his mark on the tournament to cement himself as the leading man in the future.
Paraguay – Roque Santa Cruz
If you love football, you love Roque Santa Cruz. Los Guaraníes’ own has endeared himself to fans wherever he’s been, including Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Malaga and Bayern Munich. Now leading the line for Cruz Azul in Mexico, Roque-gol is still the spearhead of the Paraguayan national team at the age of 33 and is in possession of the captain’s armband to prove it.
An aging Paraguay side has traveled to Chile for the Copa America, including 37-year-old goalkeeper Justo Villar and 35-year-old defender Paulo da Silva. With these three players totalling 331 appearances between them, Paraguay certainly have the experience, all that remains to be seen is if there’s life in the old dog yet.
Peru – Jefferson Farfán
It was difficult to overlook a man akin to Roque Santa Cruz in Claudio Pizarro for Peru, but Jefferson Farfán is simply too dangerous to ignore. At 30 years of age Farfan features in another side not short of experience and will need to bring the kind of trickery we haven’t seen from him at Schalke this season.
Having been ruled out with injury since the opening day of the Bundesliga season, Farfan returned to first team football in late March, but struggled to find form as he failed to score or assist for Schalke in all of his nine appearances. It was a season to forget for their number 17 and, like Enner Valencia, he’ll be looking to put it behind him with some fine displays in Copa America.
Uruguay – Edinson Cavani
“Where is Luis Suárez!?” I hear you cry. The answer; suspended – for the entire tournament. Still bearing the brunt of his mid-match meal in Brazil, El Pistolero won’t be gracing our screens at Copa America 2015, so in his place I offer you El Matador. Some often wonder what all the fuss is about with Cavani, but this is a man with clear talent.
Averaging just over a goal every three games, the 28-year-old is a key figure in Óscar Tabárez’s Uruguay side and has really hit form in the final two months of the season. In his last eight league games Cavani has found the back of the net ten times, as well as this, he has helped PSG to a magnificent treble in France, scoring a brace in PSG’s 4-0 Coupe de la Ligue triumph against Bastia and the only goal in the club’s Coupe de France victory over Auxerre. This is the tournament for Cavani to show everyone what the fuss is about.
Venezuela – Salomón Rondón
Finally we come to Venezuela and Salomón Rondón. On the back of scoring 20 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions for Zenit St. Petersburg this season, Rondón enters the competition on a high, having scored the only goal in Zenit’s 1-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow.
At 25, El Gladiador is coming into his prime and will be looking to lead Venezuela to their first ever World Cup when CONMEBOL qualification for Russia 2018 begins on 5 October 2015, they remain the only side in Copa America 2015 to have never appeared at a World Cup. Rondón must push on now and prove he is worthy of the rumours linking him with a big money move to the likes of Tottenham or Liverpool.