10 players worth staying up to watch at the Copa America

You’ll need plenty of late nights to catch the action from South America this summer, but Greg Lea insists they’ll be worth it for this lot…

Football eyes fell on South America last summer when Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup. Twelve months later the continent is set to capture plenty of attention again, with Chile kicking off the 44th edition of the Copa America against Ecuador in the early hours of Friday morning (00:30 BST). 

Lionel Messi, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez and James Rodriguez are just some of the superstars who’ll be involved over the next three weeks, but look a little closer and there are interesting stories to be found everywhere.

Here are 10 other players to keep tabs on…

Nicolas Otamendi (27, Argentina)

Argentina are the pre-tournament favourites but, while the Albiceleste are blessed with a whole host of world-class attackers – Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi make for a mouth-watering sextet – doubts remain about their defensive capabilities.

Valencia’s Otamendi, an aggressive and rugged centre-back, is perhaps not as glamorous as the above names but nevertheless performs a vital function for his side. The 27-year-old will also want to show apparent admirers Manchester United that he’s the man to bring them greater solidity next term.

Roberto Firmino (23, Brazil)

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World Cup scapegoat Fred has long been discarded, with Firmino now involved to help offer inspiration at the sharp end. The 23-year-old plays his club football for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, and has netted twice in five international appearances to date.

Firmino isn’t an out-and-out centre-forward, but a player who likes to drop deep and get involved in build-up play. Thus, he’ll be judged on how well he links up with Neymar as much as his own goalscoring tally.

Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City are all allegedly interested in the former Figueirense attacking midfielder, and a good Copa America could persuade the Premier League’s elite to make Hoffenheim an offer that’s too good to refuse.

Juan Arango (35, Venezuela)

This will be free-kick king Arango’s sixth Copa America as Venezuela attempt to match their impressive and unexpected run to the last four in 2011.

Arango is Venezuela’s most-capped player (121 appearances and counting) and played a significant part in the recent growth of football in the nation, helping to raise the game’s profile by spending a decade in two European top flights with Mallorca and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Now 35, the attacking midfielder will be hoping to go out on a high in what will surely be his final taste of South America’s continental competition. He's got the goals in him to finish with a bang. 

Jose Gimenez (20, Uruguay)

When Miranda was ruled out of action with a grade-two hamstring tear in November, Atletico Madrid fans were understandably worried. However, the displays of 20-year-old replacement Gimenez at the heart of the backline soon assuaged all fears, the young centre-back exuding authority throughout an excellent breakthrough season in Spain.

With Luis Suarez still suspended after his infamous bite on Giorgio Chiellini, Uruguay may have to rely on their traditional traits of doggedness and resolute defending to triumph in Chile. To that end, the partnership of Gimenez and his Atletico sidekick Diego Godin at the back will be crucial.

Charles Aranguiz (26, Chile)

Aranguiz - energetic, dynamic and full of running - embodies Chile’s high-tempo style of play and is vital to the balance of Jorge Sampaoli’s side. They'll need him on song more than ever here as they look to win the Copa America for the first time in 99 years of trying. Currently playing for Internacional in Brazil, Aranguiz admitted it would be a “dream” to move to Arsenal after the Gunners were linked with the £5 million rated midfielder in March. International glory could see other top European clubs join the battle for his signature.