Central and South American players who were barred from travelling to World Cup qualifiers by their Premier League teams will be available this weekend after their countries backed down from a request to ban them under FIFA rules. 

Players from Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Paraguay are cleared to play as their national federations agreed late Friday to waive a measure that would have compelled the players to sit out after their clubs refused to release them for international duty. 

Premier League teams last month decided to prevent players from nations on the United Kingdom's COVID-19 "red list" to participate in Qatar 2022 qualifiers, citing the UK's requirement that people who have travelled to those countries quarantine for 10 days upon their return. 

There had been some indications earlier Friday that the players might be available, but official word did not come down until shortly before midnight London time. 

Brazilians now available to their clubs Saturday include Ederson and Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City, Chelsea's Thiago Silva and Manchester United's Fred. 

Among players from other nations involved, Wolves can use Mexico's Raul Jimenez on Saturday, while Newcastle will have Paraguay's Miguel Almiron available, and Watford can play Chile's Francisco Sierralta 

Liverpool will be most relieved, with Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino cleared to face Raphina and Leeds on Sunday. 

Earlier Friday, Jurgen Klopp said at a news conference that he hoped a solution could be reached for the benefit of all parties involved. 

"It is a really difficult situation and really tricky for all the clubs, and the players especially," Klopp said. "We should not forget at this moment that the players wanted to play these games, the clubs wanted to let the players go but it was not possible."

Peru became the first side to book their place in the Copa America semi-finals after beating Paraguay on penalties in a dramatic tie that finished 3-3 following normal time and saw both teams receive red cards.

Ricardo Gareca's Peru recovered from a goal down thanks to Gianluca Lapadula's first-half double at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico, where Gustavo Gomez had given Paraguay an early lead on Friday.

Paraguay lost captain Gomez to a controversial second bookable offence just before half-time yet hit back through Junior Alonso's strike early in the second half.

Yoshimar Yotun appeared to have won the game for 2019 runners-up Peru with a deflected goal 10 minutes from time, but Andre Carrillo was also dismissed and substitute Gabriel Avalos levelled up in the final seconds to send the contest to penalties.

Following the script of the previous 90 minutes, the shoot-out was equally as eventful as four players failed to convert from 12 yards, but the drama was ended when Miguel Trauco tucked away the decisive spot-kick to set up a semi-final with defending champions Brazil or two-time winners Chile.

Paraguay will need to end a torrid run of form against Peru if they are to book a place in the semi-finals of the Copa America. 

Eduardo Berizzo's side have failed to win any of their last seven games against Peru, with their last victory coming in a friendly in November 2014. 

A 1-0 defeat to Uruguay in their final Group A game meant Paraguay finished third with six points from four games. 

They suffered a blow in that clash when influential midfielder Miguel Almiron limped off.

A late decision will be made on the Newcastle United man's fitness ahead of the match at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico in Goiania, with Oscar Romero and Andres Cubas among the options to come into the starting XI.

Peru, meanwhile, wrapped up their Group B campaign with a slender 1-0 victory over Venezuela. 

Although anything but progress to the knockout stages would have been considered disappointing, Ricardo Gareca's team perhaps did better than they expected in beating Colombia to second place in the group.

Peru claimed two wins and a draw from their four games, with their only defeat coming against Brazil, who may well be their semi-final opponents should they progress.

Speaking at a media conference on Thursday, Gareca said: "We are improving day by day, game by game. Now it is the elimination stage so we need to be more attentive during the game. 

"The more we can develop what we believe and understand what our strengths are there will be possibilities for us."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Peru – Christian Cueva

If Peru are to secure progression to the last four then the creative burden will likely fall on the shoulders of Cueva. Three key passes, one shot, five tackles and eight possession regains summed up an all-action performance from the 29-year-old against Venezuela last time out.

Paraguay – Junior Alonso

There was little to get excited about in the defeat to Uruguay, but captain Alonso can be pleased with his performance. The Atletico Mineiro defender made more interceptions (four) than any other player on the pitch, while no player made more than his five clearances.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Peru have only lost one of their last four games against Paraguay in the Copa America (W1 D2), after being defeated in the previous four.
- Paraguay conceded less than one goal per game on average in their last seven Copa America games.
- In fact, Paraguay have not conceded more than two goals in the competition since June 2015 (1-6 v Argentina).
- No other team has scored more left-footed goals in this Copa America than Paraguay. Four of their five goals have come this way.
- Alonso is the player with the most successful passes so far in this Copa America (256).

Edinson Cavani's 21st-minute penalty lifted Uruguay into second spot in Group A and booked a quarter-final date with Colombia after a 1-0 win over Paraguay at the Copa America on Monday.

In the final group game, Manchester United forward Cavani's goal moved Uruguay up from fourth to second position, avoiding a last-16 meeting with hosts and defending champions Brazil.

Paraguay came into the contest hoping to claim their first Copa win against Uruguay since 1947, with an outside chance of topping Group A, but instead slipped to third and will next face Peru.

To make matters worse for La Albirroja, influential Paraguay midfielder Miguel Almiron limped off, placing his quarter-final availability in doubt.

Uruguay needed to avoid defeat to ensure they would not face Group B winners Brazil in the quarters and started with intent as Cavani headed wide in the third minute, while team-mate Giorgian De Arrascaeta grazed the post moments later.

La Celeste won a penalty following a clumsy challenge from Angel Romero as Cavani emphatically hammered the spot-kick past Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva.

Uruguay continued to dominate as Nicolas De La Cruz went on a superb run, beating two opponents, before laying off for Cavani, whose dangerous cutback across goal was cleared by Omar Alderete.

Almiron went off injured on the half-hour mark, before Uruguay thought they had a second via Matias Vecino, although it was disallowed with Cavani offside in the build-up.

Paraguay had a goal disallowed early in the second half too, when an offside Oscar Romero nodded home.

Luis Suarez replaced Cavani in the 68th minute and should have made it 2-0 when he broke clear alongside Rodrigo Bentancur but the pair got their wires crossed.

Paraguay have not defeated Uruguay at the Copa America since 1947, but La Albirroja have momentum entering Monday's final group-stage game in Rio. 

While Uruguay have laboured to find their form in the tournament, Paraguay have taken six points from the first three Group A matches. 

They defeated Chile 2-0 on Thursday to confirm their place in the quarter-finals, three days after Uruguay needed an own goal by Arturo Vidal to salvage a 1-1 draw with La Roja. 

Coupled with a tournament-opening defeat of Bolivia, Paraguay will be feeling confident about their chances to earn a long-awaited victory.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said he expects the game to unfold along similar lines as the sides' scoreless draw in World Cup qualifying in Montevideo earlier this month. 

"Uruguay is tough, difficult, we faced each other recently in the qualifying rounds, it was very physical and tactical and surely the same awaits us," he said. "We will go out to win as we always do." 

La Celeste broke a five-game winless streak with a 2-0 defeat of Bolivia in their previous match, with Edinson Cavani breaking through for his first international goal since Uruguay's most recent victory against Colombia in November. 

With qualification for the knockout phase ensured, Uruguay will hope to gain their footing against a side they have dominated for decades. 

Uruguay are unbeaten in 15 Copa America games (W9 D6) against Paraguay dating to that long-forgotten La Albirroja triumph 74 years ago. 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Luis Suarez

Suarez is responsible for five of Uruguay's 12 shots on target in the tournament, a sign that he may be close to breaking his five-game international scoring drought. 

Beyond that stretch, the Atletico striker has not scored in the run of play for his country since a November 2019 friendly draw with Argentina. His four goals in World Cup qualifying last fall each came from the spot. 

Paraguay –​ Miguel Almiron

The Newcastle man had a hand in both goals against Chile, assisting on Braian Samudio's 33rd-minute opener and scoring from the spot in the second half. 

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- After their last win against Bolivia, Uruguay broke a run of three winless games in Copa America (D2 L1). They also scored two goals after scoring just once in each of the previous four (W1 D2 L1).
- After 11 winless games in Copa America (D6 L5), Paraguay won two of their last three games losing just against Argentina (1-0).
- Paraguay are the team with the higher shooting average in the current Copa America (17). The Albirroja also have the highest tally in a single game in the competition: 34 shots against Bolivia. 

Paraguay booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals after comfortably accounting for a lacklustre Chile 2-0 on Thursday.

Goals from Braian Samudio and Miguel Almiron saw Paraguay upstage two-time champions Chile in their penultimate Group A fixture in Brasilia en route to the knockout round.

Samudio's maiden international goal gave Paraguay a 33rd-minute lead at Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, before Almiron converted a penalty 13 minutes into the second half.

Chile were aiming to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte having won three and drawn three of the six matches since his appointment, while trying to put some pressure on Group A leaders Argentina.

But Chile struggled from the outset, recording just one tame shot on target throughout against Paraguay, with Eduardo Vargas and Ben Brereton bystanders in a forgettable outing.

Paraguay looked the more likely to score and forward Samudio broke the deadlock just past the half-hour mark – the 25-year-old rising highest to beat two defenders as his thumping header from Almiron's corner beat Claudio Bravo.

Carlos Gonzalez went close to doubling Paraguay's lead four minutes before half-time, however, his header in an unmarked situation went wide of the post in a big let-off for Bravo and Chile.

Paraguay did not have to wait long for their second goal after Chile veteran Gary Medel was penalised for a foul on Gonzalez in the 55th minute, with Newcastle United's Almiron stepping up to score the spot-kick.

Arturo Vidal led passionate appeals for a Chile penalty amid calls for a handball against Paraguay with 14 minutes remaining, but their protests fell on deaf ears, even after a VAR review.

That was the closest Chile came to scoring, with La Roja offering next to nothing in attack on a frustrating evening.

The gloss was taken off Paraguay's victory after substitute Antonio Bareiro left the field crying uncontrollably on a stretcher following what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

Chile will aim to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte and put some pressure on Copa America Group A leaders Argentina when they face Paraguay on Thursday.

La Roja have won three and drawn three of their six matches since experienced coach Lasarte replaced Reinaldo Rueda in February.

That includes 1-1 draws against Argentina and Uruguay, either side of a 1-0 win against Bolivia, to leave them second in their Copa America group with one game to go.

Chile are assured of a place in the knockout stages, but Lasarte is eager to avoid going through in fourth place, which would mean a quarter-final tie with favourites Brazil.

"We do not want to qualify in last place. Avoiding Brazil is key as they are the most powerful side in the tournament," he said.

"The draw against Uruguay, who have a lot of great players, was not bad. I'd have liked a win, but to draw was good."

Paraguay still have work to do if they are to progress out of the group, having followed up a 3-1 win over Bolivia in their first game with a 1-0 loss to Argentina last time out.

Papu Gomez scored the only goal of the game after 10 minutes for Argentina and Paraguay could not find a leveller, despite having more of the ball.

Los Guaranies will now be looking to overcome Chile in order to stay in the hunt for a top-four spot that would see them advance.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said: "We played a solid game defensively against Argentina and we have to continue with that.

"The attitude has been very good from the team and the players have given everything. We weren't rewarded for our efforts in the last game but we will try again."


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chile – Claudio Bravo

The Real Betis goalkeeper is the oldest player taking part in the Copa America at 38 years, but he is showing that age is just a number.

He has made the most saves among keepers to have played at least two games with 11 in total across three appearances (3.7 per game on average).


Paraguay – Alejandro Romero Gamarra

Gamarra has only played twice so far in this year's Copa America, yet he has created more chances than any other player in the competition (12) prior to Wednesday's games.

The prolific Al-Taawoun attacker was also on target in his side's victory over Bolivia to make it four goals in eight senior caps for Paraguay.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– Paraguay are unbeaten in their last four games against Chile on neutral soil (W2  D2).

– Chile have not conceded more than one goal in any of their six games under head coach Lasarte.

– Paraguay have the highest possession in this year's Copa America (66.8 per cent) and have created 16.5 chances per game, more than any other side.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni voiced concerns about the physical condition of his players while highlighting the importance of Lionel Messi after La Albiceleste booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals.

Papu Gomez was the hero for Argentina, with his 10th-minute goal sealing a 1-0 win over Paraguay on Monday and a spot in the last eight of the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

There was no rest for superstar captain Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's record for most Argentina appearances with his 147th cap, despite Scaloni's men backing up from Friday's success against Uruguay.

Messi has not missed a minute of Argentina's three Group A games so far, amassing 74 touches against Paraguay while winning 75 per cent of a team-high 16 duels.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had the most shots (three) and shots on target (two) among his team-mates as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 16 matches, dating back to 2019.

"The reality is that Messi has been playing every game and it is very difficult not to count on him, even though he is tired he continues to make the difference," said Scaloni, who introduced the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero into the starting XI.

"Today we made several changes and despite that we were able to take all three points."

Without a major title since the 1993 Copa America, Argentina snapped a four-game winless drought against Paraguay in Brasilia.

Argentina ended the contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession.

"What worries me is the physical condition of the players because we came from playing three days ago and today the conditions were not the best, so we had to rotate players," Scaloni told reporters.

"The first half we played very well and in the second, due to the merit of Paraguay and their good physical condition, as a result of many days off, they had more control of the game. The team showed a good image in the first half, but there are always things to keep improving."

"The beauty of all this is the process," Lionel Scaloni said post-game.

Sixteen games unbeaten and through to the Copa America quarter-finals for the 14th consecutive CONMEBOL tournament.

Papu Gomez's delightful 10th-minute effort over onrushing Antony Silva extended Argentina's undefeated streak, while snapping a four-match winless drought against Paraguay on Monday.

Add seven clean sheets during an unbeaten run, dating back to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals, and it sounds wonderful for La Albiceleste in pursuit of a first major title since 1993.

This is not your usual Argentina, despite boasting a record six-time Ballon d'Or winner – Lionel Messi, who equalled Javier Mascherano's appearance record with his 147th cap – hellbent on claiming an elusive international trophy.

Aside from Gomez's delicate finish, there was not much to write home about. After a promising opening half, Argentina faded. A growing theme under head coach Scaloni.

Argentina ended the Group A contest with a total of eight shots (five from outside the box) – their second lowest figure during the Scaloni era, tied with the match against Ecuador in October 2020 and one more than they registered against Paraguay at the 2019 Copa America.

Paraguay controlled possession across the 90 minutes – 56.9 to 43.1 per cent, the first time in the last nine meetings with Argentina they had more ball possession. Fortunately for Scaloni's side, La Albirroja did not manage a shot on target.

At a time when Argentina was reeling following another early and unsuccessful World Cup campaign, ousted in the round of 16 at Russia 2018, Scaloni stepped into a hot seat so few were willing to take on.

The seven-time Argentina international provided stability when superstar captain Messi initially retired. Scaloni oversaw a run to the 2019 Copa America semi-finals – La Albiceleste settled for third.

Fast forward to this year and even amid a lengthy undefeated streak, there are growing questions over Scaloni, the style of football and Argentina's ability to put an end to 28 years of anguish.

While the football might not be so easy on the eye, it's the results that matter at the moment as Argentina build towards dethroning South American rivals Brazil on their own turf.

Argentina qualified for the Copa America quarter-finals after ending their drought against Paraguay with a 1-0 victory.

Not since the 2015 Copa had Argentina tasted a win over Paraguay – a run of four consecutive matches – but La Albiceleste snapped that winless streak thanks to Papu Gomez on Monday.

Gomez scored the winner in the 10th minute, scooping an effort over onrushing Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva, for his second goal from just his sixth international appearance.

As Lionel Messi equalled the record for most Argentina appearances, Lionel Scaloni's men extended their winning streak to 16 games in Brasilia.

Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero were named in the starting XI for the first time during this year's Copa, and the veteran Argentina pair were heavily involved early.

Aguero had a great chance to put Argentina ahead in the seventh minute after some woeful defending saw the ball fall to his feet inside the six-yard box, however, the Barcelona recruit's reactive effort went just over the crossbar.

Argentina did break the deadlock three minutes later via Gomez, who beat the offside trap and finished delicately over Silva after Di Maria cut a ball perfectly to the Sevilla star.

Paraguay ended the half with more possession – 55.2 per cent to 44.8 per cent – as Argentina dropped off after scoring the opening goal.

Argentina did find the back of the net for a second time on the stroke of half-time, wheeling away in celebration after Gomez's cross was inadvertently put into his own net by Paraguay defender Junior Alonso but it was ruled offside.

There was a promising spell of sustained pressure from Paraguay, who had not lost to Argentina in six years, to start the second half.

Paraguay continued to dictate proceedings without creating anything meaningful as Argentina booked their spot in the knockout phase in pursuit of a first major title since winning the 1993 Copa America.

 

What does it mean? Argentina roll on

Argentina are a tough team to beat at the moment. Not since the 2019 Copa America have La Albiceleste tasted defeat – a run of 16 consecutive matches without a loss. They have kept seven clean sheets during that run.

Messi milestone

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner celebrated another milestone on Monday, equalling Javier Mascherano for the most senior Argentina appearances – 147. Messi is already the country's all-time leading scorer (73).

Toothless Paraguay

Paraguay enjoyed more possession and a better passing accuracy, but it did not translate to anything meaningful up front. Eduardo Berizzo's side ended the contest without a shot on target.

What's next?

Argentina will conclude their Group A campaign against winless Bolivia in Cuiaba on Monday, while Paraguay meet Uruguay on the same day.

Argentina know they will advance to the knockout stage of the Copa America if they end a four-game winless run in their rivalry with Paraguay on Monday.

La Albiceleste have not beaten Paraguay in six years, although three of the four games in the meantime have ended all square.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has been frustrated by the frequency with which his side have been held.

The team are unbeaten in 15 games going back to the 2019 Copa America, but they have won only eight of those matches alongside seven draws – including a home World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

A sequence of three stalemates in a row was broken last time out, though, when Argentina defeated Uruguay 1-0 to move level with Chile at the top of Group A.

"I think that the previous games Argentina also deserved to win," Scaloni said following the Uruguay match.

"For small reasons, we were left with three draws that we did not deserve."

Paraguay could leapfrog Argentina and move into position for a potentially easier quarter-final draw with a repeat of their World Cup qualifying win, although Lionel Messi was absent on that occasion in 2016 and should be present for this game.

Eduardo Berizzo's men won their Copa America opener 3-1 against basement side Bolivia.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lautaro Martinez

Martinez scored with 13.6 per cent of his shots for Inter in 2020-21, but he has so far yet to hit the target let alone the net from four chances worth a combined 0.8 expected goals at the Copa America. There were a couple of particularly disappointing misses against Chile, as Martinez was substituted when Argentina needed a goal, while he lasted just 52 minutes against Uruguay. He needs to take his chance.

 

Paraguay – Miguel Almiron

A Premier League regular, Almiron is the biggest name in the Paraguay squad. However, just as his end product has been criticised for Newcastle United, he has too often failed to make the difference at international level. The midfielder has as many red cards for his country as goals (two) and has never netted for the Albirroja in a competitive match. Almiron did assist Paraguay's opener in a draw with Argentina at the 2019 Copa America, however.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Argentina and Paraguay have met 25 times at the Copa America. Argentina have never lost to Paraguay in the competition (W19 D6).
– Paraguay are unbeaten in four against Argentina in all competitions (W1 D3). The last Argentina win against Monday's opponents was in the 2015 Copa America (6-1).
– The record between both teams in their latest six meetings in all competitions is tied, with one win each and four draws. The past two matches finished as 1-1 draws.
– Paraguay's Kaku leads the 2021 Copa America in terms of chances created. He has created 10 chances, tied with Neymar, but Paraguay have played only one game.
– Argentina are the team with the most fouls won at this Copa America (37).

Angel Romero scored twice as Paraguay produced a second-half comeback to claim a 3-1 win over a depleted 10-man Bolivia in their opening game at the Copa America.

La Albirroja were favoured to see off Bolivia, who were without three players – including captain and talisman Marcelo Martins after testing positive for coronavirus.

Bolivia, who have only progressed beyond the Copa America group stage once since finishing runners-up in 1997, took a shock early lead from Erwin Saavedra's 10th-minute penalty on Monday.

Paraguay piled on the pressure for no reward in the first half, before Bolivia were reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time following Jaume Cuellar's second booking in Goiania, Goias.

The weight of pressure told in the second half as Alejandro Romero levelled before Paraguay team-mate Angel Romero scored a brace to seal the win.

Paraguay flew out of the blocks as Santiago Arzamendia forced an acrobatic save from Bolivia goalkeeper Ruben Cordano inside the first minute, with Angel Romero flashing wide from the ensuing corner.

But Bolivia took the lead, albeit after a lengthy delay as referee Diego Haro consulted VAR, when Diego Bejarano's goal-bound volley hit Arzamendia's outstretched arm, with Saavedra converting from the spot.

Paraguay thought they had the chance to draw level when Haro pointed to the spot again after Cordano hacked down Gabriel Avalos inside the box, but again, La Albirroja were denied by the VAR after another long delay as Romero was offside in the build-up.

Alejandro Romero inexplicably pushed wide from close range in the 43rd minute, before Bolivia teenager Cuellar saw red for a second bookable offence.

Paraguay kept up the pressure after the break, with Alejandro Romero hitting the woodwork, though he equalised via an excellent 62nd-minute volley from outside the box.

Minutes later Paraguay were ahead, with Cordano unable to hold substitute Carlos Gonzalez's header and Angel Romero swooping to force home the loose ball.

Paraguay keeper Antony Silva had to be alert to a 78th-minute Roberto Fernandez strike, before Angel Romero netted his second, slotting home from Avalos' pass.

It has been a long time since Paraguay last conquered South American football, and they start their 2021 Copa America campaign looking to arrest a slump against Bolivia.

Paraguay are two-time winners of the Copa America, though not since 1979 have La Albirroja hoisted the trophy aloft.

Since then, their best performance has been reaching the 2011 final, which they lost against Uruguay. Paraguay did make it to the 2019 quarter-final, where they were eliminated by eventual champions Brazil on penalties.

There are familiar faces in the squad – captain Gustavo Gomez, Newcastle United's Miguel Almiron and Angel Romero.

Juan Carlos Osorio oversaw Paraguay's run to the last eight two years ago, but former Celta Vigo, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao boss Eduardo Berizzo is now at the helm as the country dreams big.

But Berizzo finds himself under pressure amid a four-game winless streak following their 2-0 defeat to Brazil in World Cup qualifying prior to the Copa America – the nation's first loss at home to the Selecao since 1985.

"The Copa America will serve to consolidate the concept and the idea," Paraguayan Football Association (APF) vice-president Javier Diaz de Vivar told Radio Monumental 1080 AM following the Brazil loss. "We see a growing Paraguay, we need to be more forceful and perhaps be a little more vertical, but we are doing well, working, we chat every day with Eduardo Berizzo."

Bolivia will be hoping the delayed Copa will help the team – the 1963 champions have not progressed from the group stage since 2015.

An additional advantage could be that most of Bolivia's squad play in the domestic league, which has been suspended due to the COVID-19 situation.

With more time to prepare together, Marcelo Martins and Bolivia – who took part in the 2015 quarter-finals, their first knockout-round appearance since finishing runners-up in 1997 – are looking beyond the group phase.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Paraguay – Julio Enciso

The youngest player at the Copa America, Enciso has already played 24 top-flight matches for Libertad and was briefly the youngest player to score in the Copa Libertadores this century with his goal against Jorge Wilstermann last year when still 16. A good dribbler and not shy to take a shot, Enciso has been used almost everywhere across the front for Libertad and could be an interesting wildcard option for Paraguay.

Bolivia – Marcelo Martins

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. Martins scored in the previous meeting between Paraguay and Bolivia – a 2-2 World Cup qualifying draw in November.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Paraguay are winless in their last 11 games in Copa America (D6 L5), their longest winless run in the competition.

- Bolivia scored in each of their last two games in Copa America: Marcelo Martins and Leonel Justiniano found the net in their defeats against Peru and Venezuela respectively in 2019.

- This is the sixth consecutive Copa America with Paraguay managed by a Argentinian boss, with Gerardo Martino (2007 and 2011), Ramon Díaz (2015 and 2016) and Eduardo Berizzo (2019 and 2021) each taking charge for multiple tournaments.

- Bolivia boss Cesar Farías will manage his second Copa America. In his previous edition, he oversaw an historic fourth-place finish for Venezuela in 2011.

At long last, after a 12-month delay and then so much uncertainty over the past few weeks, Copa America will start this weekend.

While the fact it is going ahead remains a bone of contention, with even Brazil players suggesting they are reluctantly playing it, Copa America is a tournament that rarely disappoints in terms of entertainment.

A bevvy of world-renowned stars such as Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi will be hoping to make the difference.

There will also be some less-familiar faces hoping to either establish themselves or introduce their names to a wider audience.

Stats Perform has identified seven players worth keeping an eye on over the next month.

Rodrigo de Paul, 27, central midfielder - Argentina

Perhaps the odd one out here given his age, but De Paul is certainly one to keep tabs on. Having just enjoyed a wonderful individual campaign with Udinese, the creative midfielder is eager on a move and will surely be keen to impress.

He had a hand in 18 Serie A goals this term (nine goals, nine assists), while his xA value (expected assists) of 10.3 was the best in the division, the 1.3 differential suggesting De Paul was occasionally let down by poor finishing.

Further to that, he also attempted (191) and completed (122) more dribbles than anyone else, so Argentina will look to him to drive them forward from midfield.

Moises Caicedo, 19, central midfielder - Ecuador

Caicedo joined Brighton and Hove Albion in January to much fanfare from South American experts, who assured Seagulls fans they were getting a future superstar.

He's yet to make a senior appearance in England, with Graham Potter patient regarding his adaptation, but the Copa America could give fans a chance to see him in action.

A well-rounded, all-action midfielder, Caicedo was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Emerson Royal, 22, right-back - Brazil

An impressive two-year spell at Real Betis has persuaded Barcelona to bring Emerson back to Camp Nou after a complicated three-way transfer in 2019.

He has proven himself to be both a dependable defender and a capable attacking outlet, his 10 assists over the past two seasons bettered by only one LaLiga defender (Jesus Navas, 13), while his 853 duels over the past two years is nearly 200 more than any other defender.

This paints a picture of an all-action defender who will work tirelessly up and down the right flank, and on the evidence of the past couple of years, it shouldn't take him too long to usurp Danilo as Brazil's primary option.

Yangel Herrera, 23, central midfielder - Venezuela

A long-term future for Herrera and parent club Manchester City looks unlikely, but he enjoyed a promising season with Granada in LaLiga – that coupled with a breakout tournament in Brazil could lead to promising suitors making their feelings known.

Herrera's a hard-working midfielder who made more tackle attempts (59) than any other Granada player this term, while it was a similar story with regards to duels (509) and duels won (261). Don't expect him to create much, but he's not shy about getting stuck in.

Jaminton Campaz, 21, left-winger - Colombia

Arguably the next big hope of the Colombian national team, Campaz only received his first call-up this month for the recent World Cup qualifiers. Although he did not get on the pitch, his inclusion in the squad was well-received among fans.

Colombia great Carlos Valderrama was among them as he urged the 21-year-old to grasp the opportunity in a post on his official Twitter account.

A livewire on the left flank, Colombia may look to his explosiveness and trickery should games remain tight in the latter stages.

Julio Enciso, 17, attacking midfielder - Paraguay

The youngest player at the 2021 Copa America, Enciso has already played 24 top-flight matches back home for Libertad and was briefly the youngest player to score in the Copa Libertadores this century with his goal against Jorge Wilstermann last year when still 16.

A good dribbler and not shy to take a shot, Enciso has been used almost everywhere across the front for Libertad and could be an interesting wildcard option for Paraguay.

Carlos Palacios, 20, right-winger - Chile

Earlier this year, Palacios made the jump to Brazil when he joined Internacional on loan from Union Espanola, where he had developed into one of Chile's most-promising young players as a lively winger.

While he's yet to score for his new club, he proved in Chile that he has a penchant for a spectacular goal one or two, while his regular appearances for Internacional have exposed him to a far greater standard of football.

Brazil's squad said they are "against" the Copa America but will not boycott the upcoming South American showpiece.

The Copa America is scheduled to get underway on Sunday, but the tournament has been overshadowed by controversy and uncertainty after CONMEBOL relocated the event to Brazil.

Postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Copa America had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina, though both countries were removed as co-hosts following respective political and COVID-19 issues.

Brazil was awarded hosting rights, despite being one of the country's worst hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Selecao captain Casemiro suggested the entire team were against hosting the Copa America on home soil, with head coach Tite promising more would be revealed following Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

After Neymar and Lucas Paqueta preserved Brazil's perfect qualifying record with a 2-0 win away from home, the squad stated their intentions in a statement via social media while criticising CONMEBOL.

"For different reasons, be they humanitarian or professional, we are not satisfied with the way the Copa America has been handled by CONMEBOL," the players said.

"All the recent facts lead us to believe in an inadequate process in realising [the tournament]."

Defending champions Brazil are scheduled to open the Copa America against Venezuela in Brasilia on Sunday.

Tite's Brazil are in Group B for the Copa America, alongside Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.

"We are workers, professional footballers. We have a mission to take with the historic green and yellow shirt that won the World Cup five times," the statement continued.

"We are against the organisation of the Copa America but we will never say no to playing for Brazil."

Amid the uncertainty, the future of Tite has also been called into question due to the stance of the squad.

But Tite told reporters post-match: "I am not a hypocrite. I am not aloof and I know what is happening. But I know what the priority is. The priority is my work and the dignity of my work."

Tite was reluctant to discuss the stance of his players regarding the Copa America following his historic outing against Paraguay.

Brazil boss tite has never lost in World Cup qualifying (W16 D2) – the longest unbeaten sequence for a coach of any national team in CONMEBOL history after the Selecao won in Paraguay for the first time since 1985.

Page 1 of 2
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.