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When it comes to big names in football, almost all play in a big league or in the UEFA Champions League. If you're not starring in European competition or at least in the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga, you're probably close to anonymous. Occasionally a major international competition can raise the profile of a player too.
For Radamel Falcao, he doesn't have the big league, the Champions League or the World Cup under his belt. He's been playing in Portugal, in the Europa League and for Colombia, who haven't qualified for a World Cup since 1998. It's not strange that a lot of people don't realize how good he is, but they will very, very soon.
In the entire history of European club football, no one had ever scored more than 15 goals in a single continental competition. At least that was the case until last season when Falcao scored 17 times in the Europa League for F.C. Porto. The star striker set a new European record en route to the Portuguese club's tournament title in the same season they went undefeated in league play.
To break a European competition record is no small feat and Falcao is no small striker, at least in terms of production. He may be just 5'9'' but Falcao has produced at every level he's played. He scored 35 times in his last two years with River Plate before moving to Porto, where he's scored 73 times in 85 matches.
He's able to score a number of ways, with a ferocious shot from distance and a knack for getting free in the box to finish teammates' crosses. He's an acrobatic scorer as well, finishing overhead kicks, volleys and backheels.Add that to his ability to finish more traditional chances and Colombia has themselves a top striker.
The question now is whether or not Colombia's midfield will get Falcao the service he needs to shine. Los Cafeteros are solid at the back, but have struggled in the midfield. As good as Falcao is, he needs to get the ball in dangerous positions, something his teammates may not be able to do for him.
It won't be long before Falcao is a household name around the world. His Europa League exploits got him some recognition, but next season he will certainly be well-known. Some of the biggest clubs in Europe are chasing him and even if he stays with Porto, they are in the Champions League next season so come the fall, he'll be plastered all over the sports news. He could speed things up even quicker with a big Copa America though, making him a household name just a few months quicker. If he gets service, of course.
Name: Radamel Falcao Garcia Zarate
Team: F.C. Porto (Portugal, Premeira Division)
Chances Copa America increases transfer value: Likely. Porto has already lost their manager to Chelsea and there are rumors that Falcao will join Andre Villa-Boas at Stamford Bridge. Whether it be for Chelsea or somewhere else, Falcao's value can only go up in Argentina this summer.
Role in the team: Center forward in a 4-3-3 or up top in a 4-4-2
David Luiz Moreira Marinho is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in the personality of a particularly cheery five year old. He also happens to be one of the better - and certainly one of the most interesting - young defenders in the world, and is one of the major keys to Brazil's success in his partnership with the far more solid but far less thrilling Thiago Silva. How will he play in the Copa America? We don't know. I doubt he even knows.
David Luiz, of course, made an instant splash following his big money move from Benfica to Chelsea in January, securing the undying love of Chelsea fans thanks to goals against Manchesters City and United as well as having ludicrous, ludicrous hair. Beyond the obvious contributions, however, his most endearing trait is the delicious naivete with which he defends.
Now, one might expect that to be a bad thing, and in the actual winning football games sense it may well be. If David Luiz was a less competent, skillful player, the idea of his running out of defence to play as a right winger would be absurd. But it seems to work just fine, for the most part, because he happens to be one of the best all-around footballers to find themselves at centre half in at least a generation.
David Luiz can do it all. Shooting, passing, dribbling, aerial ability, tackling, speed and positioning all make for a player who really should be, at 24, one of the best players in the world already. The reason he isn't is because he plays football like it's fun, which is a) adorable and b) one of the last things you want your centre halves to be doing ever.
Javier Hernandez's first minute goal against Chelsea at Old Trafford? Probably David Luiz's fault. Jonathan Walters' at the Britannia? Same again. There's a huge litany of errors that have been made by the big-haired Brazilian in key moments, which are more or less instantly forgiven the second he makes an attacking player fall over with a shimmy of his hips and then whips in an inch-perfect 60 yard cross.
David Luiz's first Chelsea start saw him be the best player on the pitch for ninety minutes and then concede a penalty for no reason at all in the 93rd (it was saved). His second featured a breathtaking volley against Manchester United and then a series of shoulder charges on Chicharito and Wayne Rooney that should have resulted in at least one and a half sendings off.
David Luiz, in other words, changes games. Sometimes he changes them in ways that don't really suit the team, but his plusses far outweigh his minuses, to the point where fans can, more or less, embrace his erratic play. That's not to say they don't expect better things of him, but his faults are correctable with experience. We can only hope that his personality dull as his discipline improves.
Name: David Luiz Moreira Marinho
Position: Centre Back
Club team: Chelsea FC (England, Premier League)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: Joined Chelsea in January, unlikely to go anywhere, although strong Copa may lead to some interest from elsewhere. Will cost at least £30M to convince Chelsea to part ways.
Role in the team: Swashbucking half of centre back pairing with AC Milan's Thiago Silva
If all goes well, it won't be long before hearing 'Neymar' sends chills down defenders' spines in the same way that Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo's names inspire terror. At 19 years old, Neymar is already clearly far too good for the Brazilian league and has been linked to summer moves to some huge names, with the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea apparently more than willing to pay through the nose for the chance to land Santos' wonder-kid.
Watching him play, it's not hard to see why. Neymar is a phenomenally talented footballer, capable of obliterating any defender in the world in all manner of ways. He can shoot, he has the vision and control to split the defence open with a clever pass, and his dribbling ability is already directly comparable to Messi's. On paper, Neymar is one of the planet's top left forwards, and on talent alone, he could crack the starting lineup for just about every team on the planet.
Brazil will be hoping the boy wonder can shine against more difficult competition than he's been able to experience with Santos (although he did help them win the Copa Libertadores, CONMEBOL's equivalent to the UEFA Champions League). He has impressed in international duty to date, but annihilating the likes of Scotland and the United States is, with all due respect to both countries than imposing himself in a game against Argentina or Uruguay.
Neymar has the raw ability to turn the tournament into his own little coming-out party, and Brazil's samba boys self identity is inherently tied to how their most flamboyant forwards play football. It would be huge for both Neymar (currently valued at 40M) and Brazil should he manage to do so. But there's something in the way of that happening, and it's something quite ugly: Himself.
No, not his hair, although though it is dire. Neymar's issue is something far deeper, and, alas, incurable with pair of scissors. While Leo Messi is calm and reserved, Neymar is a flamboyant primadonna, prone to throwing fits when he doesn't get his way. He dives. He sulks. He gets sent off for wearing a mask of himself.
Neymar's on-field personality isn't just unpleasant, it makes him into a lessor player. His habit of attempting to make fools of defenders will get him hurt, and the pouting over refereeing calls or plays that went badly has seen him mentally take the rest of a match off. It's an extraordinarily ugly sight to behold.
Of course, the major mitigating factor here is that Neymar is nineteen years old, and teenagers aren't exactly known for being the most well-adjusted people in the world. In order to overcome the spoilt brat aspect of his personality, he'll probably have to experience failure first hand, and in that regard a poor Copa may be even more beneficial to Neymar than an exceptionally strong one.
All in all, Neymar's career could go either way. In ten year's time we may be looking back at what might have been as he plies his trade in Turkey - or we could be laughing that there could ever have been any doubts that he was going to be the best player in the world. Time will tell, but in the meantime, Neymar is sure to entertain.
Name: Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior
Club team: Santos (Brazil, Serie A)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: While teams on the edge of paying huge money for Neymar might be pursuaded one way or the other by his showing at the tournament, he's going to be worth a fortune no matter what.
Role in the team: Focal point of attack at left forward.
South American football teams earned plenty of respect at last summer's World Cup when all five of the continent's teams advanced to the knockout stage. Anyone who may have previously doubted the quality of the teams beyond Brazil and Argentina were undoubtedly convinced of the continent's depth and when those South American teams competed in their grueling home and home qualifying for the tournament who proved to be the continent's top scorer? None other than Humberto Suazo, Chile's deadly striker who tallied 10 times .
That may surprise those whose football watching is Eurocentric, but not to those who have kept tabs on South American and Mexican football in recent years. Once Suazo worked his way through the lower divisions he got his chance in Chile's top division with Colo-Colo where he scored 52 goals in 54 matches. It wasn't just limited to Chilean league play either as he netted 18 times in 21 continental matches. A move to Monterrey in Mexico just added to Suazo's resume as he scored 95 times in 120 matches. A short loan spell to Real Zaragoza in Spain didn't overwhelm him either as he put six goals in.
As good as Suazo may be now, he hasn't always been an obvious choice as one of Latin America's top strikers. As a youngster he was as lazy as could be. If training wasn't mandatory, he wasn't there. He showed up just in time for the training sessions he had to be at and was never found getting extra work in. The reason he spent as much time as he did in the lower divisions of Chile before getting his chance with Colo-Colo were because of concerns about his maturity and discipline.
Being just 5'7'' and often overweight didn't help Suazo either. Short and with a wide frame, being overweight just looked worse on Suazo. Eventually, Suazo pulled it together though. He put the work in and was bagging goals everywhere he went. His round, short frame never went away, but it became a muscular frame reminiscent of a bowling ball.
Now he can use that frame to muscle off defenders. He's strong and able to use his low center of gravity to maintain his balance despite pushing and shoving from defenders. That round frame and short stature that could have held Suazo back has become a positive for the Chilean.
It's paid off for Chile too. He may have been injured at last summer's World Cup, but going into Copa America he's expected to join Alexis Sanchez as one of the most dangerous pair of attackers any team in the tournament has. With Sanchez creating havoc for the back line, Suazo will be free to use his knack for finding space in the box to get scoring chances. Add in a distinct calm in front of goal and Chile has as good a chance as anyone to make a run deep into the tournament.
Name: Humberto Suazo
Club team: Monterrey (Mexico, Primera Division)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: Possible. Suazo has already established himself as one of Mexico's top strikers and it wouldn't be the slightest of surprises if he drew European interest, although he age may be a deterrent.
Role in the team: Go-to goalscorer
One of the longest-serving members of Benfica's squad (having arrived in 2007 from Defensor Sporting of Uruguay), Victorio Maximiliano Pereira Paez - Maxi to his friends - has also arguably been the Eagles' most consistent performer during that time, adapting to a succession of different coaches, and proving vital to all of them. Initially a winger under Jose Antonio Camacho, Maxi's first season at the Luz was largely one of adaptation, though he did produce an unforgettable goal against AC Milan in the Champions League.
Following the departure of Nelson, Maxi was moved into the right-back position by Quique Sanchez Flores, and although the Spaniard is not remembered with great fondness in Lisbon, his decision to convert the Uruguayan into a rampaging full-back is at least one positive legacy of his time at the Luz. Maxi's finest campaign in Benfica colours was undoubtedly 2009/10, where the Eagles delivered some thrilling attacking football as they sped to a Liga and Taca da Liga double.
With the more defensive-minded presence of Ramires ahead of him, Maxi was able to contribute to Benfica's offensive moves with abandon, regularly appearing on the overlap to deliver crosses for the likes of Saviola and Cardozo. He also played a key role in Benfica's run to the Europa League quarter-finals, producing a pair of vital goals against Marseilles.
Whilst last season was something of a disaster for Benfica, Maxi was (along with his colleague at left-back, Fabio Coentrao) one of few players to emerge with his reputation enhanced. Barely showing any fatigue from an impressive World Cup, he hit the ground running, with his commitment and will to win a real boost to his oft-beleaguered coach, Jorge Jesus. Although not often picked out as a star name, Maxi is, to my mind, the beating heart of this Benfica side.
Name: Maxi Pereira
Club team: Benfica (Portugal, Primeira Liga)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: Possible. Maxi has a contract with Benfica until 2015 but also has a blabbermouth agent, who has been a constant in thorn in Benfica's side.
Role in the team: Attacking full-back
Rising to prominence at the tender age of 18 with Colo Colo, ‘Mati’ Fernandez has had something of an unexpected career arc, given that he departed Chile clutching the 2006 South American Footballer of the Year award. Amidst interest from Europe’s finest, Mati chose instead to join compatriot Manuel Pellegrini at Villarreal, where – in theory – he looked set to replace Juan Roman Riquelme as the side’s creative fulcrum. Sadly, things didn’t turn out quite that way. A stop-start spell at El Madrigal followed, with the promise shown at Colo Colo rapidly becoming something of a distant memory.
Having spent close to €9m on Fernandez in 2006, Villarreal accepted an initial €3.65m from Sporting Clube de Portugal in June 2009, an indicator of just how little the Chilean had progressed during his time in Spain. Despite making a respectable 25 starts in his first season at the Alvalade, Mati all too often found himself allowing the game to pass him by, and as the campaign went on, he was generally more of a late substitute.
Of course, Mati was not helped by the institutional strife at Sporting, with the club finishing a whopping 28 points behind eventual title winners Benfica. It was a similar story for the rest of 2010, with Mati handed just 7 starts by Paulo Sergio. However, his resignation and the arrival of Jose Couceiro as interim coach precipitated an upturn in fortunes for the Chilean playmaker. Couceiro implemented a settled 4-2-3-1 system, which saw Mati allotted the classic number ten role to which he is best suited. He ended the campaign in fine form, with his vintage display against FC Porto an especially memorable moment. After a frustrating 5 years in Europe, Mati may just be beginning to fulfil some of that potential…
Name: Matias Fernandez
Position: Attacking midfielder
Club Team: Sporting CP (Portugal, Primeira Liga)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: Unlikely. Mati is talented but many of Europe's top clubs will be hesitant after his comparative failure in Spain.
Role in the team: Playmaker
A dynamic, box-to-box midfielder with a penchant for long-range screamers, Freddy Guarin has, after a modest first couple of seasons in Portugal, become a vital cog in Porto's much-lauded squad. He began his career with Envigado in his native Colombia, before loan spells at Boca Juniors and St. Etienne. Despite joining the French outfit on a permanent basis in 2007, his development was somewhat stunted, and some eyebrows were raised in Porto when Guarin was acquired on a four-year deal, with the now-Portuguese international Paulo Machado heading in the opposite direction.
With Raul Meireles and Lucho Gonzalez ahead of him in the midfield pecking order, Guarin was restricted to substitute cameos in his debut season at the Dragao. It was a similar story in 2009/10, though the Colombian did finish the campaign in outstanding form; capped by the opening goal in the Taca de Portugal final, his sixth in as many matches.
The departure of Meireles would surely have filled Guarin with hopes of a first-team spot, but with the arrival of Joao Moutinho and his instant chemistry with Fernando Belluschi, the Colombian was once again a frustrated observer, not starting a match until mid-October. However, Porto's punishing fixture list presented Guarin with an opportunity, which he seized with both hands. As in 2009/10, his form improved as the season went deeper, particularly in the Europa League, where he contributed a succession of vital goals - against Sevilla, CSKA Moscow, and Villarreal. It was also Guarin who opened the scoring at the Estadio da Luz, where Porto defeated eternal rivals Benfica to seal the Liga title.
Now a firm fan favourite, Guarin's stock has never been higher, at club or international level.
Name: Freddy Guarin
Position: Central midfielder
Club team: FC Porto (Portugal, Primeira Liga)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: Pretty good, as Guarin is on plenty of radars already.
Role with team: Hustle and bustle in the centre of a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1.
If you asked any one of your friends who the best footballer in the world is and he said anyone but Lionel Messi, well, that should be the end of your friendship. Simply put, Messi is the world's best player and it isn't close. Anyone who says otherwise isn't worth your time.
How good is Messi? He scored 53 goals for Barcelona last season, setting a new club record as Messi picked up his fifth La Liga title and third UEFA Champions League title. The problem with those numbers is they don't even do his brilliance justice. He dribbles like the ball is on a string and he's just playing with it. He's lighting quick and for a little guy can strike the ball with a ton of force. He sees the field as well as anyone and can play some of the most sublime passes you will ever see. In short, he is otherworldly.
As incredible as he is, Messi has not been otherworldly when he trades in his Barcelona shirt for an Argentina shirt though. His brilliance is muted. His spark is put out. He is not the jaw dopping player that has some questioning if he could be the best to ever play the game.
Messi's struggles for La Albiceleste have not been lost on the Argentina supporters either. It is amazing to think, but Messi might be least popular in his own country, where Argentineans continually wonder why the Messi that wows people around the world week after week for Barcelona can't do the same for their beloved national team.
Coming off of a World Cup in which he struggled to really dominate, the pressure is on Messi to have a spectacular Copa America with the tournament hosted by Argentina. Messi has made Copa America a priority too.
"I have been lucky enough to win everything with Barca and individually, but my goal now is to win things with Argentina," Messi told reporters.
It is slightly unreasonable to expect Messi to perform as well for Argentina as he does Barcelona. After all, with the Catalans he is playing with the world's best midfield. Argentina has their share of talent in the midfield too with Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Javier Pastore, among others, but they don't match up with Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and the rest of Barcelona's amazing players. Without the Barcelona midfield behind him things aren't quite as easy for Messi.
That said, Messi's relative struggles for Argentina are somewhat baffling. He is given enough freedom to pick his places on the pitch, similar to how it is at Barcelona. He's a hybrid winger/forward, sometimes splitting out wide only to cut in and other times lining up centrally, only to drift wide when the opportunity presents itself. He's played with top notch strikers like Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain, among others, so he's not struggling for help up to either.
This Copa America will give him the chance to break out for the national team though. He had moments of brilliance at the World Cup and in World Cup qualifying, but he was hamstrung by the tactics, or lack thereof, of then-manager Diego Maradona. With him out and the astute Sergio Batista in, Messi has been deployed centrally, but with a more capable and cohesive midfield behind him that doesn't force him to drop extremely deep just to see the ball.
A manager overwhelmed tactically and leaving Messi out to dry isn't going to be a problem anymore. He is playing the best football of his life and that is really saying something for a player like Messi. In the center and with quicker, more agile players around him, Messi will have every chance to succeed and he better because another national team failure, this time in his own country, and the Argentina fans will have a field day.
Name: Lionel Messi
Club Team: FC Barcelona (Spain, La Liga)
Chances Copa America Increases Transfer Fee: Would you sell Lionel Messi? Barcelona won't either.
Role With The Team: Center forward in a probable 4-3-3, but really free to do as he pleases.
It seems like Jefferson Farfan has been on the world football scene forever, so it's hard to believe that he's only 26 years old. He made his first team debut with Alianza Lima in Peru at 16, started scoring goals at 17, and guided them to a league title at 18 before being sold to PSV Eindhoven. He did some more winning and scoring there before moving on to Schalke 04, where he's done a fair bit of scoring and winning. Peru aren't expected to do much in this year's Copa America, but that doesn't make Farfan any less interesting.
Despite their large population, natural resources, location, and trade agreements, Peru's economy isn't great, and as a result, neither are their football teams. Some of the greatest footballers come from poverty, but they eventually get snapped up by big clubs in their late teens and molded into stars. Peru's clubs aren't doing that at the rate that they should with their population, and as a result, Farfan is almost in a class of his own on his team.
That lack of talent around him didn't stop him from becoming South America's leading goal scorer in 2006 World Cup qualifying, but he didn't do any scoring in the last World Cup qualifying cycle. Thanks to a hotel party scandal, Farfan was out of the national team picture for a few months. He's back in the team now, but he has not yet come back to his scoring ways. It won't be easy for him to do so in Copa America, but there's no doubt he has the talent to pull it off.
Farfan scored an incredible 57 league goals in his four years at PSV Eindhoven as he helped the team to four consecutive Eredivisie titles and one Dutch Cup title. At the end of the 2007-08 season, he was sold to Schalke 04 in Germany for the hefty price of 10 million Euros, and he's continued to shine there.
While his first two seasons were a major success in a Schalke shirt, Farfan struggled in the Bundesliga this year as Schalke had an absolutely terrible season domestically. They were, however, brilliant in Europe, with Farfan being no exception. In Schalke's 10 UEFA Champions League games, Farfan managed four goals as the team made it all the way to the semifinals of the competition. Though they were thoroughly defeated by Manchester United, most pundits cited Farfan as the only reason Schalke ever had a chance. When his teammates could actually win the ball back, he looked dangerous.
Farfan can play as both a winger and as a forward in multiple formations. His most common deployment for Schalke has been on the right side of a 4-4-2, while he usually plays on the right side of a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 for Peru. He has played as the center forward in a 4-3-3 for his country before, but that seems unlikely in this case. Both him and Claudio Pizarro are apparently fit and healthy, so look for Pizarro to occupy the center forward spot with Farfan and youngster Luis Advincula on either side of him.
Name: Jefferson Farfan
Club Team: Schalke (Germany, Bundesliga)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: High. His contract is running out at Schalke and they appear to be going in reverse. Following the sales of Rafinha and Ivan Rakitic, it wouldn't be stunning if Farfan was next.
Role with team: Right forward in a probable 4-3-3.
In all likelihood, Luis Suarez will never live down a certain incident that occurred during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa against Ghana. And that's fine - many people will hate him for having the nerve to play football in a sensible manner. That's their prerogative.
But there's far more to the Uruguayan dynamo than a handball on the line in a World Cup quarterfinal. And no, i'm not talking about the time he bit Ottman Bakkal on the shoulder, either, which has been curiously underplayed (and is far worse than the Ghana incident, in all honesty). Luis Suarez is, simply put, one of the top wide forwards operating in the game, and both Uruguay and Liverpool are privileged to have him on their teams.
Sublimely talented, with excellent vision, a good shot and the ability to dribble through defenders, Suarez cuts a menacing presence on the pitch while belies his slight stature. Even in a world where Andy Carroll lines up alongside him, Suarez is the focal point of defensive attention - and that makes everyone around him more dangerous, something that will deeply worry Uruguay's opponents, who have to deal with not only the Liverpool hitman but both Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan as well.
While Cavani and Forlan are both more traditional centre forwards (there's some confusion on just how those two will play together), Suarez is cut from different cloth. The modern 4-3-3 requires playmaking, goalscoring wingers rather than players who'll simply get to the byline and sling in crosses, and Suarez is much happier to take the ball infield himself than he is going wide.
That, of course, is where he's most dangerous. He can and will pop up on both flanks, beat his man, either laying off an incisive pass or shooting with his favoured right foot. He's exceptionally dangerous when coming in from the left flank thanks to his uncanny accuracy and absurd power, demonstrated in spectacular fashion with a stunning goal against South Korea last summer to win the second-round match for Uruguay.
The wide forward role is often known as a 'support striker', which is code for 'he plays high up the pitch but doesn't actually score that often'. Wide forwards are creators more than goalscorers as midfielders delegate playmaking duties to those coming inside from the flanks. But Suarez breaks the mould.
He's a creator, true, but he's also an incredibly lethal finisher, scoring 111 goals in 159 appearances for Ajax int he Eredivisie, including a 2009/10 season in which he netted 49 times. His impressive season drew notice from across Europe, with Liverpool eventually bidding €26.5 for his services. His move to Anfield went smoothly despite the club being rocked by the departure of Fernando Torres, and so far he's done plenty to make fans forget their former hero.
Uruguay, on the other hand, didn't need Suarez to move to England to appreciate just how good a footballer they have on their hands. They've known who he was for a long, long time.
Name: Luis Suarez
Position: Wide Forward
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: None. Following a big money move to Liverpool it's unlikely that Suarez goes anywhere anytime soon.
Role with team: Right winger in probable 4-2-3-1.
Alexis Sánchez is one of the most sought-after players in football. It was a near-certainty that he was on his way to Barcelona, until his club Udinese revealed that the Champions League winners hadn't put in a high enough bid. That transfer saga is still ongoing, and Sanchez could still end up in a Blaugranas shirt. El Niño Maravilla is also wanted by the likes of Manchesters United and City, Chelsea, and Juventus. To be honest, he's likely wanted by any club smart enough to pay attention to the Chilean, even if most of them cannot afford the €50m fee that Udinese are now seeking.
So what is it about Sánchez that makes him so damn appealing? After all, he's only had one truly excellent season with the Fruilani, scoring twelve goals and notching six assists. Those numbers only tell part of the story, however. Sánchez was signed by Udinese back in 2006, but remained on loan in South America until 2008. He caught the eye of much of the world in the 2010 World Cup, where he was the shining star in Marcelo Bielsa's attack-oriented squad.
Fans of Sánchez may have been a bit disappointed, however, if they tuned in to watch the zebrette at the start of the 2010-2011 season. Despite their ultimate fourth place finish, Udinese lost their first four games, and Sánchez was benched for nearly a month. When he returned, Francesco Guidolin shifted him from his usual place on the wing into the role of second striker.
The shift away from his typical role as a wide attacking player is what made Sánchez into the hot commodity that he is today. Creating a trequartista out of the winger not only helped Udinese become the second-highest scoring team in Serie A, propelling them into the qualifying stages of the Champions League, but also helped his strike partner Antonio Di Natale reach 28 goals this season. It's the second straight year that Toto has tallied the most goals in the league, but this season, it was clear it was more about the work of Sánchez than of the Udinese captain.
Now it's time to see if Sánchez can inject the same sort of spark into the Chilean team. Bielsa may be gone, but Claudio Borghi will be playing El Niño in a role similar to the one he plays at Udinese, slotting him in as second striker, allowing him to slip inside and better elude the defense. Opposition teams should take care to not allow the play of Sánchez to frustrate, leading to them conceding fouls in what television announcers would call a "dangerous position." But as long as la roja keeps up the fast paced game we saw from them in the World Cup, Sánchez will flourish, creating space, tricking the defense, and generally making life a living hell for other teams.
Name: Alexis Sanchez
Club Team: Udinese (Italy, Serie A)
Chances Copa America increases transfer interest: None. He's already sought after by the biggest clubs in the world and is likely to be moving to FC Barcelona in the near future.
Role with team: Second striker in 3-4-1-2
The 2011 Copa America is just 10 days away and we're all about getting the hype machine rolling. Since this tournament features all of the teams in South America, it obviously features some of the best players in the world. Many well-known, world renown superstars like Lionel Messi, Luiz Suarez and others make up the rosters, but there are also a great deal of up and coming talents who will soon be cashing much larger paychecks, quite possibly as a result of their performances in this tournament.
Over the next 10 days, we'll be profiling over a dozen different players that you should keep an eye on during the 2011 Copa America. Some of them will be big stars like the aforementioned Messi, but others will be players who are still a couple of steps away from being household names. We'll be looking at players who play in North America, South America and Europe, leaving no one unrecognized because they aren't playing for the big clubs. The fun starts tomorrow with Alexis Sanchez and will continue until the opening day of the tournament.
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