There are set to be a plethora of top-notch players on show at this year’s Copa America, and Argentina lead the way with some of the best.
Pushing for their 15th Copa America title in total, which would see them join Uruguay at the top of the all-time charts, Gerardo Martino’s men do have a lot to play for, although La Albiceleste are unlikely to let that goal obscure their judgement too much.
As outlined in our preview of Argentina’s hopes of victory, it’s been 22 years since they last lifted this prestigious trophy and although they won’t get sidetracked by chasing blindly after history and glory, it is still a worthwhile pursuit that can be used as extra motivation if need arises.
So, without further ado here’s a look at the top five players who should prove crucial to their progression.
#5: Fernando Gago
It seems a lifetime ago that Fernando Gago was transferred to ride high at Real Madrid in Spain. With his playing time restricted, he was sent to AS Roma and Valencia for equally unspectacular spells. Now back in his native Argentina, he’s a regular in the Boca Juniors starting XI and playing some good football.
Discarded by Los Blancos a few seasons back, it looked as if he might not ever reach the pinnacle again – that said he has shown some great resilience to continue fighting towards triumph once more and is now on the cusp of winning silverware with the national team.
Often employed in a three-man central midfield, Gago could slip seamlessly alongside any number of combinations. In saying that, he would probably work best in a 4-2-3-1 system alongside either Ever Banega or Javier Mascherano as his conservative nature would provide the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Erik Lamela with the confidence to attack with exuberance and fluidity – uninhibited by a defensive worry.
His role might not be the most spectacular one, but it could prove crucial to Argentina’s advancement.
#4: Angel Di Maria
Following an underwhelming season with Manchester United, Angel Di Maria has a lot of work to do if he wants to recapture his form of old – and winning the South American Championship could well be the kick-starter he needs.
There are many reasons behind Di Maria’s disappointing start to life at Old Trafford, but it’s clear that the ex-Real Madrid star has plenty of time and motivation to turn things around, and what’s even more apparent is that he still possesses the innate ability to wow us all, he just needs a few things to go his way first.
No doubt, growing pains will hinder their start, but Fideo can become a shining light in world football once again if he can just push himself to sidle into that comforting slipstream of success once more.
Potentially, he could operate in a midfield three alongside Gago and Banega, but the deadly midfielder could also hurt opponents in a more advanced role. With a keen eye for goal as well as a terrifically deadly passing range, he ought to provide Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero or Gonzalo Higuain with all manner of sumptuous assists.
Indeed, once they’ve managed to emerge from Group B, his talents will need to become even sharper. If he's up for the challenge, though, we’ll all enjoy seeing him at full-tilt once again.
#3: Carlos Tevez
Back in Berlin at the beginning of June, Carlos Tevez was on the cusp of completing a glorious treble with Juventus – then Barcelona got involved and scuppered those plans in the Champions League final with a masterful display. Despite giving the Spanish champions a real run for their money, there was little Tevez could do to trouble Ter Stegen in the Barca goal.
Picking himself up from that defeat has, no doubt, proven a tough assignment but El Apache has gone through more harrowing times than this in the past, as anyone who knows his personal story will tell you, having grown up in one of the toughest barrios in Buenos Aires.
Indeed, with the Copa America a big task to overcome since he will be suffering from fatigue and frustration, the former Manchester United star is expected to relish every second of it. Having netted close to 30 goals between his 46 appearances this season, this has been one of his best campaigns to date.
Redemption will surely be foremost in Tevez’s mind. Having not been included in their World Cup squad that travelled to Brazil, the 31-year-old is now in the mix once again and will be keen to start hammering the goals in for La Albiceleste.
#2: Sergio Aguero
Topping the scoring charts in England, Manchester City’s show-stopping Sergio Aguero bagged 26 goals in the Premier League as the Citizens wound up relinquishing their crown to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Churning out a series of unbelievable performances, the 27-year-old front-man captured our imaginations with so many memorable displays – who could forget the one-man whirlwind he whipped up against Bayern Munich when they clashed in the Champions League? Striving for consistency and class, he refused to give in, even when injury threatened to cut his season short. Ultimately, though, Aguero and company ended up with nothing to show for their efforts.
Much like Tevez, City’s star striker will be out for vengeance, although their motivations differ with Aguero looking to make up for an empty season. His goals will be his catharsis. If he can find the back of the net regularly enough, figure out how to meld with the expansive attacking football of his fellow countrymen, he should get his hands on a medal and a saving grace of sorts.
Attracting the attentions of Real Madrid, per Spanish publication AS, he’s unlikely to hold back as he looks to send out one last signal of intent to the best of the best; it will be his “come and get me” plea, if you will.
#1: Lionel Messi
It couldn’t really be anyone else now, could it? A champion of Europe, a champion of Spain – a soon-to-be champion of South America, too? He’ll certainly hope so.
The back-biters will suggest he can’t do it all on his own. Look at what happened in the summer of 2014, they’ll suggest. Getting to the final, he couldn’t single-handedly out-do Germany as Mario Gotze crushed their dreams with a late, late extra-time winner. But he won’t have to do everything by himself, he just needs to hit top-gear in tandem with the rest when they confront the best.
Watered down, the ex-Newell’s Old Boys starlet has beaten the best defences in the world over and over again, and he is set to do it again. Capable of scoring from anywhere, he also has the ability to meander through waves of markers untouched, either to score on his own or to set-up his team-mates.
A decade after his national debut as a teenager, a lot has changed and the world’s best player has won so much and made so many smile and wonder at his amazing skill, but the Copa America continues to evade him. Can he set that record straight, too? It promises to be fun watching him try, at least – let the countdown continue.Published 12 Jun 2015, 11:52 IST