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These youngsters rose to the occasion at crucial stages of the continental tournament.
For eternity, South America has established itself as a home to raw and exciting young talents. Players from all over the continent show astounding capabilities at a young age, pulling everyone’s attention. The likes of the young Messis, Ronaldos, and Neymars have always graced this competition, making it worth watching for a scout. The Copa America 2021 was no different.
Although many of the players from South America are pretty well-known due to their European involvement, the tournament saw some young talents announcing themselves. While only time will tell how their career paths will go, the glimpse of promise was omnipresent.
From Argentina’s rigid young left-back to Ecuador’s central midfielder playing in the Premier League, Khel Now brings you five young starlets who impressed at Copa America 2021:
5. Moises Caicedo (Ecuador)
Brighton and Hove Albion followers might know Moises Caicedo well, as a youngster that recently climbed to the senior team via the U-23s. Caicedo started four games for Ecuador in the the tournament and gave midfield enthusiasts occasions to be excited about. The 19-year-old played a crucial part in games against Peru and Venezuela, in particular.
Caicedo’s main strength includes his ability to be an excellent passer and a tempo-breaker at the same time. Boasting 87% pass accuracy, the youngster did well in breaking lines to spot the forwards. Against a fierce Brazilian press, he was involved in build-up, helping the side progress forward.
Similarly, the Brighton midfielder averaged 1.8 successful tackles per 90, while intercepting the ball once in each game. From a relatively rusty midfield, Caicedo rose to help his side transition from attack to defence and vice-versa.
4. Gonzalo Montiel (Argentina)
Argentine fans cannot forget Gonzalo Montiel’s brave performance in the final to get the better of Brazil in their own backyard. Setup by Lionel Scaloni to defend against the likes of Everton Ribiero, Vinicius Junior and Neymar, the right-back won nine out of 10 ground duels, while making three successful tackles.
Throughout the tournament as well, Montiel had been rock-solid at the back. As a relatively defensive full-back who prefers to operate in the middle and defensive third, the River Plate campaigner complimented the system well. The 24-year-old consistently dealt with pacey wingers and was excellent at intercepting and releasing the ball forward quickly.
Despite being frequently interchanged with Nahuel Molina, Montiel did well in what he was deployed to do. He completed the back three in possession and defended the spaces well. Hence, it’s fair to say that he also contributed to the defensive stability that Argentina displayed in the tournament.
3. Lucas Paqueta (Brazil)
For long, Brazil has been home to some of the most skillful players to have ever played the game. Lucas Paqueta looks to belong in that bracket too. Despite starting the tournament from the bench, the Lyon midfielder started four games. The main reason behind Tite’s switch was Paqueta’s ability to combine with Neymar to move the ball forward.
Particularly, Paqueta’s ability to find spaces and gel well with Neymar reaped sweet fruits for Brazil. The 24-year-old scored two decisive goals against Chile and Peru to move Brazil forward in the tournament. More than the stats, the Ligue 1 Team of The Year-inductee provided a creative spark in Brazil’s relatively rigid midfield at Copa America 2021.
In addition, his ability to be dynamic and creative helped Brazil be vertical in attack. Coming from an island that he was named after, Paqueta is one to watch.
2. Ben Brereton (Chile)
Ben Brereton’s inclusion in the Chile squad for Copa America 2021 is a modern fairy-tale in itself. After being discovered by fans in Football Manager about his maternal heritage, fans campaigned on social media for his inclusion in the Chilean squad. As a result, the former England U-19 and U-20 forward became a part of Martín Lasarte‘s setup.
Alexis Sanchez’s injury in the group stages put Brereton in the squad quickly. In his three starts, the 22-year-old notched up a goal and an assist, supporting Eduardo Vargas well in the front two. At times, he looked to be the only player that offered an attacking threat in the Chilean squad. The former Nottingham Forest striker massively impacted the play that he was involved in.
Coming from a fine season with seven goals and five assists for Blackburn Rovers, Brereton is a spark of hope for an eroding Chilean side. He certainly is one of the players to look out for in the 2021/22 Championship.
1. Luis Diaz (Colombia)
Luis Diaz was arguably the most exciting player to watch at Copa America 2021, bar Lionel Messi and Neymar. The FC Porto winger was lethal and looked to drive forward every time he got the ball. In addition, he scored a stunning overhead-kick against Brazil as the icing on the cake.
Diaz scored four goals in his five appearances, tied with Lionel Messi for the Golden Boot. The 24-year-old scored two against Peru to give Colombia a third-place finish, as well as forcing Argentina to penalties in the semi-finals. Showcasing his ability to be stubborn with the ball and make something out of nothing, the youngster lit up Colombia’s campaign.
Diaz, obviously, will be on the radar for many European sides and most importantly be Colombia’s go-to attacker for the future.