These players shone the brightest for their respective teams.
After nearly a month of intense action, Argentina have been crowned the champions of South America. Dramatic late winners, nail-biting penalty shootouts and skillful plays decorated the 2021 edition of Copa America.
Argentina ended their 28-year wait for an international trophy. Lionel Messi, who captained La Albiceleste to the title, won both Golden boot and Best Player of the Tournament awards. Similarly, Argentine shot-stopper Emiliano Martinez claimed the Golden Glove award at Copa America 2021.
While Argentina emerged as the champions, some players put on brilliant individual performances. Let’s take a look at Khel Now’s Copa America 2021 Team of the Tournament.
Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)
Breaking into the national team on the back of a brilliant season with Aston Villa, Emiliano Martinez stepped up when he was needed the most. The 28-year-old saved three penalties against Colombia to put Argentina into the final against Brazil. The goalkeeper was consistent throughout the tournament, starting in six games and keeping four clean sheets.
In addition, Martinez’s clutch saves against Chile and Uruguay helped Argentina defend their lead. With an astounding 85.7% save percentage, the keeper completed Argentina’s long quest for a reliable and experienced shot-stopper.
Right-back – Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
Playing as a wide-midfielder in Colombia’s 4-4-2, Juan Cuadrado was heavily involved in most attacks that Colombia made throughout the tournament. The Juventus star scored a splendid free-kick against Peru to help Colombia finish third following a penalty shootout loss against Argentina in the semis.
Finishing the tournament with a goal and an assist to his name, Cuadrado was much more involved in Colombia’s play. He was involved in diverse actions: from planting crosses into the box, making runs from the wide to intercepting opponent’s plays. Remarkably, Cuadrado was also Colombia’s most creative player, as he created 18 chances in six matches.
Center-back – Marquinhos (Brazil)
For years, Marquinhos has been a reliable defender for Paris Saint-Germain and he repeated the same in national colours. Pairing up with experienced Thiago Silva, Marquinhos was a force in defending both aerial and ground threats. It was his commanding defensive performance that kept Brazil alive against Peru’s repeated attacks in the semi-finals.
In addition, Marquinhos was a constant threat in Brazil’s attacking corners. With 110 progressive carries, his ability to advance the ball to the middle third was also a crucial part of Brazil’s progression. The PSG defender’s display has once again proved his worth, which has long been valued at the European level.
Center-back – Piero Hincapie (Ecuador)
Ecuador’s brave 1-1 draw against Brazil was also a revelation of Piero Hincapie’s excellent defending ability. The 19-year-old was rock solid, nullifying every attack that hit the Ecuadorian box. In particular, Hincapie’s ability to quickly intercept and progress the ball forward caught many eyes.
While the Lazio-linked defender still looks raw and rather reckless at times, he was crucial to Ecuador’s quarter-final journey. Although Ecuador struggled with possession against sides like Brazil and Argentina, he was excellent on the ball and showed signs of developing into a good ball-playing centre-back.
Left-back – Pervis Estupinan (Ecuador)
Villarreal’s Pervis Estupinan was tasked to cross from the left side. His ability to constantly move forward and supply crosses to Angel Mena and Enner Valencia saw him get more involved in Ecuador’s build-up. The left-back averaged 9.6 crosses per 90, more than any other player in this year’s edition.
In addition, Estupinan’s overlapping runs and combination with Diego Palacios and Jhegson Mendez stood out for Ecuador. Despite Ecuador’s struggles and a 3-0 defeat to Argentina in the quarter-finals, Estupinan’s creativity was eye-catching.
Central midfield – Casemiro (Brazil)
Casemiro’s impression as a team player and solid defensive midfielder only grew in the 2021 edition of the Copa America. The Real Madrid midfielder intercepted opposition runs and cut passing lanes ahead of Brazil’s defensive line.
Against sides like Chile and Colombia, Casemiro’s presence mattered a lot for the Selecao. Casemiro troubled the likes of Arturo Vidal and Carlos Aranguiz, which resulted in Chile struggling to create goalscoring chances. Despite being a man down, Brazil registered a narrow 1-0 win. It was Casemiro’s darting header in the last minute of added time that crafted Brazil’s victory against Colombia.
Central midfield – Rodrigo De Paul (Argentina)
Argentina’s triumphant campaign saw the side partially ease off its over-dependence on Messi and Rodrigo De Paul was a part of the process. The Udinese midfielder put on an excellent display of ball retention, progression and passing in Argentina’s historic final win against Brazil.
De Paul managed six key passes, one of which was the long ball that gave Argentina the lead in the final. Without the ball, he managed to keep track of opposition players and frequently recovered possession to bolster the Argentinian attack. Together with Giovani Lo Celso, De Paul formed a strong link in Argentina’s improved midfield display.
Right wing – Lionel Messi (Argentina)
In his first senior international tournament win, Lionel Messi had a humongous impact. Scoring two unstoppable freekicks and four goals overall, Messi managed to stand out yet again for La Albiceleste. The talismanic Argentine also registered five assists and as always, looked to be the best player on the pitch.
Messi’s style of play, in presence of players like Lautaro Martinez and Nico Gonzalez, was largely directed towards feeding balls forward. Nonetheless, La Pulga’s defence-dismantling dribbles and shots were frequent. From the very first game of the tournament, Messi looked lively and continued his form to take Argentina to their first major trophy in 28 years.
Attacking midfielder – Neymar Jr. (Brazil)
The main man of Tite’s Brazil, Neymar had an impressive individual campaign. His impact was more discernible than just the two goals and three assists. Almost every attack went through Neymar and he combined with Lucas Paqueta well in Brazil’s route to the final.
The PSG star regularly collected the ball from deep and converted them into promising chances on goal. He put on an inspiring display in his six appearances and acted as a link-up between other players in the final third. Despite this, an underperforming upfront resulted in an unsuccessful title defence.
Left wing – Luis Diaz (Colombia)
Besides Cuadrado, Luis Diaz was a crucial element of Colombia’s lively and dynamic wing play. The FC Porto attacker’s stunning overhead kick to give Colombia a 1-0 lead against Brazil was arguably the tournament’s best finish. Diaz built on that performance and scored against Argentina and Peru in the matches that followed.
Diaz’s ability to make quick progressive runs from the left saw him score three solo goals – one against Argentina and two against Peru. Furthermore, the winger was the only out-an-out player that offered verticality to Los Cafeteros’ attack. In addition, his accuracy in front of goal was impressive as the four goals came from just 10 shots on the opposition goal.
Striker – Lautaro Martinez (Argentina)
Scoring three goals in three consecutive matches, Lautaro Martinez was the tournament’s most convincing forward edging past Peru’s Gianluca Lapadula. Despite underperforming his xG by 0.3, the Inter Milan forward was clinical in his movements and pressures.
Playing in front of creative forces like Messi, Lo Celso and De Paul, Martinez had to be alert of receiving passes and also made some fine runs behind the opposition defence. He also fulfilled his off-the-ball duties well. Finishing Copa America 2021 with a winner’s medal, the 23-year-old will certainly look to polish up his finishing and build on the confidence that this tournament has brought to him.