Luis Haquin (Bolivia)
Only 21, but Haquin has already won a move to Mexico, where he plays for Puebla. A central defender, he had a busy first game of the tournament against Brazil; that will likely be the case as long as Bolivia remain in the Copa America, but the more defending his team are asked to do, the more his talents will shine through.
Josef Martinez (Venezuela)
Before Miguel Almiron headed to Newcastle mid-season, he was wreaking havoc in MLS as the creative foil to the more clinical and direct striker Josef Martinez. The 26-year-old already has 10 in 15 this season with Atlanta United and is a threat from anywhere around the edge of the box thanks to his hammer of a right boot. Could well be used as super-sub for starting striker Rondon, but still capable of saving or winning matches for Venezuela.
Renzo Saravia (Argentina)
Argentina’s latest revitalisation of the defensive line sees the incorporation of Saravia at right-back, a roving 25-year-old who will get forward on the overlap, but is also solid and dependable in forcing back the opposition. Having just won the Argentinian Primera Division with Racing, he’s off to FC Porto for next season—but first he’ll make a spot in his national team’s defence his own.
Akram Afif (Qatar)
One of the big hopes for Qatar’s national team when they host the World Cup in 2022, Afif is a 22-year-old forward who wears the No. 9 shirt and comes into the Copa on the back of a goal-laden, title-winning season domestically. If the invited country are to impress in Group B, Afif’s pace and trickery in the final third will be crucial. Keeping up his strike rate of a goal every 88 minutes wouldn’t hurt, either.
Carlos Gruezo (Ecuador)
A midfield workhorse, Gruezo is another MLS representative at the Copa, though before joining Dallas he had a short stint in Germany with Stuttgart. Aged 24, he could easily have another move back to Europe ahead of him; his tough-tackling nature, relentless running ability and good passing range make him a fine all-rounder. Will be principally charged with anchoring the centre of the park for Ecuador; could be a ‘star’ in the sense that he frustrates and stops everyone else playing.
Takefusa Kubo (Japan)
Alright, so maybe this player is one you’ve heard of – and you could well do again in the near future. Kubo was a teen prodigy in the Barcelona academy until their irregularities with signing youngsters saw him depart; now he’s moving to Real Madrid’s B team instead. Aged 18, he’s the youngest of an extremely inexperienced Japan squad which is built with the Olympics in mind and he’s sure to at least be handed chances to impress off the bench.
Raul Ruidiaz (Peru)
A livewire forward with a habit of scoring important goals at club level, Ruidiaz only needs a sniff of a chance to lash one in thanks to his good movement and fearless play against far bigger defenders. The 28-year-old Seattle Sounders striker only has a handful of goals at international level, but he can unsettle defences and make room for others in the Peru attack to threaten, too.
Even if you hadn’t heard of him pre-Copa America, you might have seen his handiwork by now – Everton scored Brazil’s superb third goal late on in the tournament opener against Bolivia. An inside forward who loves to dribble at the defence and shoot relentlessly, the 23-year-old is perhaps set to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Neymar’s absence. Will battle David Neres to earn a starting spot as the tournament goes on and will surely leave Gremio sooner or later.
Wuilker Farinez (Venezuela)
Short in stature for a modern goalkeeper but every inch the athletic, explosive and agile shot-stopper needed to quickly become a memorable talent. His reflexes are incredible, his footwork is impressive and the admiring glances are already there in abundance from European teams for the 21-year-old Venezuelan No. 1. Their third group game against Brazil might be his big ‘shop-window’ performance.
Santiago Arzamendia (Paraguay)
Love attack-minded full-backs with great delivery and plenty of pace? Look no further than Paraguay’s left-sided outlet Arzamendia, who will surely be headed to Europe this summer or next. 21 years of age and just breaking into Paraguay’s senior side, the dynamic wing-back could go from brand new starter to household name across the weeks of the Copa America.
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