Copa America 2021, which kicked off nearly two weeks ago, is now at its business end. The group stage has been completed, and the top eight teams have confirmed their places in the quarter-finals.
The tournament has witnessed some feisty encounters between top South American teams, with players rising to the occasion and helping their nations progress to the next round.
With the knockout rounds of Copa America 2021 starting on Friday, let's have a look at five players who’ve impressed the most in the group stage of the tournament:
#5 Alejandro Gomez (Argentina)
Alejandro Gomez was not a regular starter for Argentina coming into Copa America 2021.
The 33-year-old attacking midfielder, now plying his trade at Sevilla, has had a brilliant few club seasons, which led to his call-up to the national team. Nevertheless, he was not a first-choice for manager Lionel Scaloni, as Nicolas Gonzalez started the games against Chile and Uruguay.
However, following disappointing performances from Gonzalez, Gomez was brought to the XI, and the player grabbed his opportunity with both hands, impressing by scoring vital goals.
Gomez dinked the goalkeeper against Paraguay to score Argentina's winner and opened the scoring in the game against Bolivia. His two goals in the tournament helped secure the top spot for Argentina in Group A of Copa America 2021.
#4 Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani didn’t start the group stage at Copa America 2021, and Uruguay stuttered in their opening two matches. A loss and a draw against Argentina and Chile respectively meant the record Copa champions were under pressure to qualify for the knockouts.
Cavani stepped up for his nation in the subsequent matches. Arriving at Copa America 2021 in great form, the Manchester United striker scored key goals against Bolivia and Paraguay to help Uruguay finish second behind Argentina in the group.
#3 Miguel Almiron (Paraguay)
Miguel Almiron played a starring role for Paraguay as they qualified above two-time champions Chile from their Copa America 2021 group.
The 27-year-old midfielder was the shining light for Paraguay in the group stage of the tournament, producing key goalscoring contributions. Even in Paraguay's narrow defeat against Argentina, Almiron was one of the best players on the pitch, as he troubled the Argentinian defence.
Against Chile, Almiron assisted Samudio’s goal and scored one himself in the second half. However, in what comes as a very big blow for Paraguay, Almiron reportedly pulled his hamstring in the last group game against Uruguay and could miss the quarter-finals.
#2 Neymar (Brazil)
Unsurprisingly, Neymar has shone the brightest for Brazil at Copa America 2021. After missing the last Copa America, which Brazil won due to injury, Neymar has looked like a man on a mission in this year's competition.
With four goal contributions (two goals and as many assists) in three matches he has played, Neymar has proved once again why he is regarded as one of the best players in the world.
After lighting up the tournament in Brazil's Copa America 2021 opener against Venezuela, producing a goal and an assist, Neymar scored a brilliant goal against Peru to help secure Brazil’s top spot in the group. Neymar-led Brazil will be one of the heavy favourites in the knockout rounds.
#1 Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi’s Argentina career has been replete with heartbreaks and disappointments compared to his exploits with Barcelona.
After losing three consecutive international finals in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and enduring a sub-par 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign, Argentina were in dire need of a new direction and fresh energy.
The new crop of Argentine players led by Messi had a promising campaign in the 2019 Copa America, which reignited hopes about Argentina's renaissance. Unbeaten since July 2019, Argentina have arrived at Copa America 2021 as one of Brazil's key challengers.
Messi has once again shouldered the responsibilities for the team in what might be his last Copa America campaign. He scored a stunning free-kick to kickstart his Copa campaign against Chile and provided the assist in the next game against Uruguay.
Messi scored a brace and assisted Alejandro Gomez’s goal in the game against Bolivia to help secure La Albiceleste’s spot in the quarterfinals. He finished the group stage as the top scorer and also the top assist provider.