Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

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. Currently 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. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

Argentina left Juan Foyth and Lucas Ocampos out of their Copa America squad as Lionel Scaloni finalised his plans for the tournament in Brazil.

Scaloni made a last-minute adjustment as Bayer Leverkusen forward Lucas Alario was ruled out by injury and River Plate rising star Julian Alvarez took his place, .

The omissions of Foyth, who on Friday sealed a move from Tottenham to Villarreal, and Sevilla winger Ocampos, may be held up to scrutiny later.

However, Scaloni chose a 28-man squad packed with pedigree as Argentina attempt to conquer the Copa America for the first time since 1993, with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Lautaro Martinez giving the Albiceleste a formidable forward line.

Argentina face Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia in Group B of the South American championship. They were due to be co-hosts of the tournament but COVID-19 factors saw it move to Brazil at late notice.

Alario had been included on the initial final squad list sent to organisers CONMEBOL, but he was eventually excluded due to the hamstring injury that forced him to miss the closing weeks of Leverkusen's season.

Alvarez, 21, did not feature on Argentina's provisional list of 50 players but was allowed to join the squad because of Alario's injury.

CONMEBOL said in a statement: "This Friday, June 11, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) informed CONMEBOL of the injury of Lucas Alario, a player included in the list of 28 summoned for the CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 that had been delivered on Thursday, June 10.

"Given this, the Argentine Football Association requested the replacement of said player and the inclusion in his place of Julian Alvarez, a footballer not included in the first instance in the preliminary list presented on June 1.

"Said request was approved by the CONMEBOL medical commission in accordance with the provisions of the regulations and after the delivery of Form 2 [substitution of injured players]."

Argentina squad for Copa America:

Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa), Agustin Marchesín (Porto), Juan Musso (Udinese); Gonzalo Montiel (River Plate), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Lucas Martínez Quarta (Fiorentina), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Lisandro Martínez (Ajax), Cristian Romero (Atalanta), Nahuel Molina Lucero (Udinese); Leandro Paredes (PSG), Guido Rodríguez (Real Betis), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Angel Di María (PSG), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna); Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Sergio Aguero (Barcelona), Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart).

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.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni says his side deserved all three points after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 2-2 away to Colombia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

La Albiceleste had raced to a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes but were pegged back by Colombia with substitute Miguel Borja firing in a 94th-minute header.

The result leaves Argentina in second with 12 points from their opening six qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, but six points adrift of CONMEBOL leaders Brazil.

"When you think it's all done, no, it's not," Scaloni told reporters post-game. "We're leaving with one point when we deserved all three. Argentina deserved to win.

"Up until the 94th minute, what we were doing was really good and the last play gave them a point, it wasn’t deserved.

"We deserved the three points. I have to congratulate the players because they played a good match in the heat on a difficult pitch against a good opponent."

Argentina did have numerous chances to seal the win including two shots from Lionel Messi which were thwarted by Colombia keeper David Ospina, while Nicolas Gonzalez hit the post in the first half.

Colombia made three half-time substitutions while Luis Muriel was brought on at the half-hour mark to chase down the deficit, with the Atalanta forward netting a 51st minute penalty.

Argentina's Juan Foyth made an error in the lead-up to Borja's late leveller from Juan Cuadrado's cross although Scaloni refused to criticize him specifically.

"It's individual errors not defensive," he said. "The defensive play of the team was perfect up until that play. It was a specific error and nothing more.

"It's the last play and it changes the entire match. The rest of the 94 minutes and a half were perfect."

Argentina turn their attention to the Copa America which is scheduled to commence on Sunday, with Scaloni's team starting their campaign on Monday against Chile in Rio de Janeiro.

Miguel Borja scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Colombia came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw with Argentina in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Colombia substitute Borja produced a bullet header in the 94th minute to pinch a share of the spoils after Argentina had raced to a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes on Tuesday.

Goals from Cristian Romero and Leandro Paredes appeared to have Lionel Messi's Argentina cruising to victory, but Colombia pulled one back early in the second half via Luis Muriel's penalty.

Borja, who was one of three half-time substitutes for Colombia, produced the decisive late intervention, moving his side to eight points from six games in qualifying.

Argentina remain undefeated but have drawn three of their past four qualifiers, having collected 12 points from six games in total on the roar to Qatar 2022.

Atalanta defender Romero powered home a third-minute header from Rodrigo De Paul's set-piece for the visitors, who were two up early after the ball pinballed on the edge of the box, with Paredes producing a composed low finish.

It meant Argentina scored two goals before the first 10 minutes of a World Cup qualifier for the first time since 2011.

Argentina almost had a third inside half an hour when Colombia keeper David Ospina saved Lautaro Martinez's shot and Nicolas Gonzalez fired the rebound into the post.

La Albiceleste were forced into a first-half goalkeeper change after Colombia defender Yerry Mina clattered into Emiliano Martinez, who was stretchered off.

Daniel Zapata flashed a shot wide before the break for Colombia, who reduced the deficit after Nicolas Otamendi was adjudged to have elbowed Mateus Uribe, with Muriel sending substitute keeper Agustin Marchesin the wrong way from the spot.

Messi almost caught out Ospina with a curling 58th-minute free-kick, while the Barcelona superstar's crafty ball set up Martinez for a sharp chance too.

Colombia mounted pressure with Muriel shooting over after Borja's chest down, while another Messi shot forced a low Ospina save.

The hosts found an equaliser deep into injury-time when Juventus star Juan Cuadrado's right-flank cross found Borja whose header went in under Marchesin.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said La Albiceleste are preparing for the Copa America to go ahead amid uncertainty, though he still has concerns.

The Copa America is scheduled to get underway in Brazil on Sunday after CONMEBOL controversially removed Argentina and Colombia as co-hosts due to respective political and coronavirus issues.

Brazil were awarded hosting duties, despite being one of the country's worst hit by the COVID-19 health crisis, and Scaloni has already voiced his disapproval of CONMEBOL's decision.

Tite's Brazil are reluctant to host the showpiece South American tournament, with the squad set to shed more light following Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

Argentina are also gearing up for a World Cup qualifier away to Colombia before their scheduled Copa America opener against Chile on Monday.

"We know what everyone knows, for now it is being played and we are aware of that," Scaloni told reporters, with Argentina out to maintain their unbeaten record in qualifying on the road to Qatar 2022.

"Now we are focused on the game with Colombia and after this we will surely focus on what is coming."

"We wanted to base ourselves in our training camp, they authorised it and for us it is a great peace of mind," added Scaloni.

"I don't know what will happen after the playoff games are over, but it is very important for us to stay at home.

"What will happen from tomorrow I don't know, we are calm. But the worrying aspect is still there."

Lionel Messi was on target as Argentina drew 1-1 with Chile in Thursday's World Cup qualifying fixture.

Messi – who also struck the woodwork on more than one occasion – converted a first-half penalty before Alexis Sanchez restored parity for Chile.

On Messi, Scaloni said: "Messi's always marked by two or three people. We are planning on doing something which we have not been doing in the last games. Hopefully we can do it.

"We will have to see what Colombia does. They are the hosts, they just won in a convincing fashion and we will see if they have the same team. Messi being marked is something that we assume."

Lionel Messi said Argentina wanted to win a "very special match" against Chile in World Cup qualifying as Diego Maradona was honoured with a statue prior to kick-off on Thursday.

Argentina and Napoli great Maradona – widely considered to be one of football's greatest ever players – died at the age of 60 after suffering heart failure in November last year.

A World Cup winner with Argentina and two-time Serie A champion during his time at Napoli, Maradona was at the centre of a touching tribute as Messi and the La Albiceleste players gathered outside Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades to unveil a statue of the country icon before the 1-1 draw with Chile.

Messi's 24th-minute penalty was cancelled out by Alexis Sanchez 12 minutes later in Argentina's first match since Maradona's death and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner reflected on the occasion.

"It was a very special match because it was the first without Diego," Messi said after the match.

"We know what the national team meant to him, even if he wasn't in the stadium, he was always there.

"For being the first without him and because of everything that is happening in the country and in the world. It is also a pity that there was no public.

"We wanted to give Diego the victory and represent the national team as he always did, leaving everything behind, but we have to continue."

Messi improved his internationally tally to 72 goals thanks to his spot-kick after Argentina team-mate Lautaro Martinez was adjudged to have been fouled by Chile's Guillermo Maripan following a VAR review.

Chile star Sanchez equalised before half-time to earn a share of the spoils, though Argentina remain undefeated through five games on the road to Qatar 2022.

Messi came close to restoring Argentina's lead on numerous occasions, including a free-kick that struck the post inside the final 10 minutes on home soil.

The superstar captain had the second most touches in the game (87) behind team-mate Rodrigo De Paul (106), while Messi recorded the most shots (five), created the most chances (two) and disputed the most duels (17).

"It has been a long time since we got together, it is not easy to get back together with little work," said Messi, whose Argentina are 12 games unbeaten as they gear up for the Copa America, which is scheduled to start on June 13. "We continued what we had been doing, at times we were good, we played a good game.

"We were good in pressure and recovery, they practically did not create situations If it hadn't been for the stopped ball, they were hardly reaching us. It was a difficult game, as always with Chile."

Brazil head coach Tite cannot guarantee the participation of the Copa America champions this month as some players oppose the showpiece tournament on home soil.

The 2021 Copa America is scheduled to take place in Brazil, starting June 13, following CONMEBOL's decision to relocate the event.

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 have been awarded hosting rights in pursuit of back-to-back titles, despite being one of the country's worst hit by the COVID-19 health crisis.

However, it remains to be seen whether Tite's Brazil will compete due to their displeasure over the relocation of the Copa America.

Amid ongoing talks as Brazil prepare for Friday's World Cup qualifier against Ecuador, Tite told reporters: "We have a very clear opinion [about the Copa America], after seeing the entire chronological sequence of events, Juninho and I spoke with the president and told him our opinion.

"We asked the players to work focused solely on preparing for the game against Ecuador, they accepted this request and asked us for a conversation with the president to tell him what their opinion is, because all the players are very clear about what they want.

"They spoke directly with the president and the coaching staff, from there their position is very clear. We want to tell the fans what they think, but not now so that we can prioritize playing well and winning the game against Ecuador.

"This is our goal and at the end of these FIFA matches, we will tell everyone to clarify our thoughts. You have my commitment that at the end of these games we will tell publicly what the position is."

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

The Selecao are due to open their campaign against Venezuela on June 13.

Tite, whose Brazil are unbeaten and atop the World Cup qualifying standinds, added: "All this has a negative effect in the face of the game with Ecuador, but we have to have the greatness to overcome this moment and be able to play well and win the game.

"Adversities happen and this hurt us, but it is up to all of us as a team to be able to filter all that and play a great game and achieve the result that people deserve."

Lionel Messi scored as Argentina resumed their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to Chile.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the football calendar, with the road to Qatar 2022 postponed due to the COVID-19 health crisis until Thursday's clash in Santiago del Estero.

Argentina hit the front behind closed doors through Messi's 24th-minute penalty after Lautaro Martinez was fouled by Guillermo Maripan.

Chilean star Alexis Sanchez equalised 12 minutes later but La Albiceleste still remain unbeaten through five games in qualifying.

While Chile had played a friendly in March, Argentina were returning to action for the first time since November last year – a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Peru.

With both nations also gearing up for the looming Copa America – scheduled to start in Brazil on June 14 – visitors Chile made a bright start in a physical opening, veteran forward Eduardo Vargas flashing a shot just wide of the post in the 15th minute.

That seemed to trigger Argentina, who went up the other end and earned a penalty. Maripan's challenge on Martinez initially went unpunished but the referee pointed to the spot after VAR recommended a review.

The outcome was predictable as Messi stepped up to convert, sending Claudio Bravo the wrong way for his 72nd international goal.

Argentina's lead lasted just 12 minutes as Chile responded through Sanchez, who made no mistake from close range after a free-kick was whipped into the back post and Gary Medel kept the ball alive by heading it across the six-yard box for his team-mate.

Messi also restored Argentina's lead in the first minute of stoppage time, but Chile goalkeeper Bravo made a fine save to thwart the superstar.

After a long domestic club campaign, the quality began to drop, though Chile looked the more threatening in the second half.

Just as Argentina looked off the pace and vulnerable defensively, Messi came within inches of putting the home side ahead after his free-kick struck the post inside the final 10 minutes.

 

What does it mean? Argentina extend streak

Not since the 2019 Copa America in July have Argentina tasted defeat. Scaloni's men are now 12 games unbeaten – dating back to the 2-0 semi-final loss to Brazil – with this year's scheduled Copa America looming on June 14.

Chile impress under new boss

Martin Lasarte replaced Reinaldo Rueda in February and his first qualifying fixture should provide optimism among Chile fans. Having only won one of their four 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Chile took the game to Argentina.

Di Maria poor

Given a starting berth by Lionel Scaloni, Angel Di Maria had a chance to stake his claim ahead of the Copa America. However, the Paris Saint-Germain star did not have much of an impact and was withdrawn just past the hour.

 

What's next?

Argentina will continue their road to Qatar 2022 at Colombia on Tuesday, while Chile host Bolivia on the same day.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni disapproved of CONMEBOL's decision to move the Copa America to Brazil, describing the situation as "alarming" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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

CONMEBOL confirmed the 2021 tournament will go ahead as planned, with Brazil taking over hosting duties in pursuit of back-to-back titles, despite being one of the country's worst hit by the COVID-19 health crisis.

As Argentina prepare to open the showpiece event in the scheduled curtain-raiser against Chile on June 13, Scaloni questioned the governing body's decision to strip Argentina of hosting rights.

"Some time ago people had been talking about the problems we have as a country to host the Copa America and the effort that the Government and the AFA were making to try to play it in Argentina," Scaloni told reporters ahead of Thursday's World Cup qualifier against Chile.

"Colombia had already gone down and in the end it was decided that it should not be done here for a health issue, but now it turns out that we will have to travel to Brazil and with that everything is said.

"Surely Brazil is the same or worse than us and from that place it was a difficult decision to assimilate, but this does not mean that we will have to go play and try to do our best.

"There are still many unknowns, accommodation, where we will train, our perspective changed a lot because before we were going to be on our camp, with all precautions, and now we are faced with this situation that is still alarming and worrying because it is not the ideal place."

Scaloni – who announced his starting XI for the qualifier against Chile, which is headlined by superstar captain Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria – added: "The issue of the virus and the pandemic is not something new, we are already immersed in this and it really is very difficult to carry it forward with training and day to day, but all the national teams are in the same conditions.

"You have to live with this in the most responsible way. It has never happened that two qualifying games are played and then the Copa America, before we had preparation games, but now it is all atypical and we have to face it in the best way and in due time."

The one-year postponement of the Copa America gave Argentina vital time as they sought to avoid squandering probably the most precious asset ever granted to any international team in football history.

A yawning gap remains in Lionel Messi's glittering collection of honours. At club level, the Barcelona superstar has won it all, won it again and won it some more just for good measure. For Argentina, he is yet to lift a major honour.

Rather than an international tournament, Messi spent the last close-season negotiating his next move – which ultimately meant staying in Catalonia. His contract is up again in 2021, but the legendary forward must also negotiate the rearranged Copa this time.

Realistically, this tournament and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar represent his final shots at glory for La Albiceleste, with the nagging sense his best chance to emulate the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona with a defining triumph at the highest level might already have passed him by.

 

THE GOLDEN GENERATION

Over recent years, Messi has frequently appeared wearied as a man carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders for club and country.

Of course, this was not always the case. At Barcelona he was the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's slick and sublime masterpiece before starring as part of Luis Enrique's turbo-charged MSN forward line.

Argentina's more forlorn efforts of late make it easy to forget what a defining generation of talent Messi once spearheaded.

Any heavyweight football nation collecting back-to-back Olympic gold medals, as Argentina did in 2004 and 2008, would reasonably expect the senior honours to follow – with or without arguably the greatest of all time at their disposal.

Names from those podiums in Athens and Beijing trip off the tongue. Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are all Olympic champions.

At the 2010 World Cup, the fairytale combination of Messi and the Messiah – the late Maradona inimitably entertaining but evidently ill-cast as head coach – fell to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Die Mannschaft also beat them in 2014 – this time as Mario Gotze scored the only goal in the final during extra time. Alejandro Sabella's steadying hand brought them to the brink of sporting immortality and Messi was named player of the tournament, despite some underwhelming showings by his own standards.

NEAR MISSES, RETIREMENT AND SHAMBLES

Gerardo Martino managed not to win a major trophy when he led Barcelona in 2013-14 and, unfortunately for Messi, history repeated during his tenure with the national team.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a glorious chance in the World Cup final and he and Banega erred from the spot as Chile won the 2015 Copa America in a penalty shoot-out.

Against the same opponents at the Copa America Centenario 12 months later, Messi himself failed amid further heartache from 12 yards.

As emotions ran high in the aftermath, the number 10 announced his retirement from international football, with rumours other stars would follow suit due to disaffection with the Argentine Football Association.

By the time Messi returned for a 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil that November, Edgardo Bauza's tenure as head coach was already on the rocks.

Jorge Sampaoli replaced him and Argentina needed an utterly majestic hat-trick from their talisman away to Ecuador to snatch a place at Russia 2018.

Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered.

Having brought Argentina to their knees while in charge of Chile, Sampaoli inadvertently did the same again during a shambling turn ended by eventual champions France in the last 16. There was a near revolt after a group-stage thrashing from Croatia and the coach left with his reputation in tatters.

LIONEL, LIONEL AND LAUTARO

Star names such as Martino and Sampaoli not working out probably help the cause of the unheralded Lionel Scaloni, who emerged from the rubble of Russia to take temporary and then full charge.

The 2019 Copa America got off to a similarly inauspicious start, but they scrambled out of the group and were arguably a little unlucky to lose 2-0 to hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semis.

A feisty third-place match against Chile was won 2-1 thanks to goals form Aguero and Paulo Dybala, despite Messi bizarrely getting sent for being repeatedly butted by Gary Medel.

An indignant post-match interview brought a four-game ban, although a more vocal Messi leading through words as well as deeds was a pleasing development. In his absence, 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Mexico and Ecuador suggested brighter times ahead with a younger core.

Goals in the early stages of World Cup qualifying this season have been slightly more sparse – six in four games – but Argentina have still taken 10 points to remain unbeaten, second to Brazil in the standings.

Lautaro Martinez has been involved in half of those qualifying goals (two goals, one assist) and has now firmly established himself as the number one option at centre-forward, where Argentina's surplus of riches makes their lack of reward so embarrassing.

Going slightly further back, since Scaloni first took charge, the Inter star has 11 goals in 20 games – averaging one every 120.3 minutes and outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 7.8. Messi has six goals at 193.7 minutes per goal from an xG of 8.0 over the same period.

European club form coming back home to the national team has not always been a given during the Messi years, as evidenced by that slightly more ordinary return, so it is encouraging to see Martinez scoring at a faster rate under Scaloni than he has to date during his 100-game Serie A career (37 goals at one every 172.4 minutes).

THE NEW GENERATION

Aguero – a regular until Martinez came to the fore – may still have a role to play in trying to right a journey of heartache he has charted alongside Messi in blue and white. But Scaloni has come to rely on new faces as he quietly shapes a team in his own image. Moulding the ramshackle embarrassment of three years ago into a compact and hard-working unit necessitated high-profile casualties.

A pair of substitute appearances in November were Di Maria's first international outings since being dropped during the Copa. Paulo Dybala is fit again but seemingly now no longer even a bench option in the coach's eyes.

Argentina's all-action midfield creator is now Udinese's Rodrigo de Paul, whose 122 completed dribbles led Serie A this season, while his 18 goal involvements (nine goals, nine assists) ranked joint-third among midfielders.

Di Maria's Paris Saint-Germain colleague Leandro Paredes has started alongside De Paul in each qualifier to date, and Giovani Lo Celso has two assists in just 159 minutes of international action this season.

Disappointingly, winger Nicolas Gonzalez has been dogged by thigh injuries since scoring twice in November. With a goal every 155.8 minutes in the Bundesliga this term, he had been one of those set to profit from the Copa's new date.

Selection has also been consistent in defence this season, but German Pezzella's ill-timed injury absence meant Lucas Martinez Quarta was the Fiorentina defender allowed to settle in the heart of the back line.

Pezzella – a stand-in captain for the national team not so long ago – remains the main man in Florence, playing 32 league games to Martinez's 21, yet his younger colleague averages more tackles (1.9), interceptions (2.4) and blocks (0.6) per 90 minutes.

It looks like a case of either/or next to Nicolas Otamendi and his frequent reversions to slapstick, although Atalanta duo Cristian Romero and Jose Luis Palomino are also both now in the mix.

Elsewhere, despite the new call-ups – Emiliano Buendia is another debut option but has been plying his trade in the Championship – Scaloni's reliance on a steady XI might hint at a lack of depth. When the Copa was delayed by 12 months, one of world football's heavyweights might have hoped for more than the development of Inter's second-best striker and a wealth of defensive options in the meantime.

Instead, the narrative remains frustratingly familiar: Argentina need Messi to fire.

CONMEBOL has confirmed the 2021 Copa America will go ahead as planned, with Brazil taking over hosting duties.

This year's edition of the tournament – postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina.

However, Colombia lost co-hosting status amid mounting political unrest in the country, while the event then needed to find a new location after a surge in coronavirus cases ruled out playing games in Argentina.

CONMEBOL met on Monday to determine the future of the competition, electing to move the tournament to Brazil, who were crowned champions on home soil in 2019.

A post from the governing body's official Twitter account read: "The CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 will be played in Brazil!

"Tournament start and end dates are confirmed. The venues and the fixture will be informed by CONMEBOL in the next few hours. The oldest national team tournament in the world will make the whole continent vibrate!"

The tournament will run from June 13 to July 10, though further details over locations and the exact schedule are to be released in the near future.

However, the decision to move the Copa to Brazil does not come without controversy.

The nation has been one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 health crisis with nearly 460,000 deaths, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.

CONMEBOL's decision also comes in the aftermath of protesters in cities across the country calling for Jair Bolsonaro's impeachment, with Brazil's president having previously played down the severity of the virus and also questioned the importance of vaccinations.

"The best soccer in the world will bring joy and passion to millions of South Americans," CONMEBOL added in a further tweet.

"CONMEBOL thanks the president Jair Bolsonaro and his team, as well as the Brazilian Football Confederation for opening the doors of that country to what is today the safest sporting event in the world.

"South America will shine in Brazil with all its stars!"

CONMEBOL has confirmed the 2021 Copa America will go ahead as planned, with Brazil taking over hosting duties.

This year's edition of the tournament – postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina.

However, Colombia lost co-hosting status amid mounting political unrest in the country, while the event then needed to find a new location after a surge in coronavirus cases ruled out playing games in Argentina.

CONMEBOL met on Monday to determine the future of the competition, electing to move the tournament to Brazil, who were crowned champions on home soil in 2019.

A post from the governing body's official Twitter account read: "The CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 will be played in Brazil!

"Tournament start and end dates are confirmed. The venues and the fixture will be informed by CONMEBOL in the next few hours. The oldest national team tournament in the world will make the whole continent vibrate!"

The tournament will run from June 13 to July 10, though further details over locations and the exact schedule are to be released in the near future.

However, the decision to move the Copa to Brazil does not come without controversy.

The nation has been one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 health crisis with nearly 460,000 deaths, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.

CONMEBOL's decision also comes in the aftermath of protesters in cities across the country calling for Jair Bolsonaro's impeachment, with Brazil's president having previously played down the severity of the virus and also questioned the importance of vaccinations.

"The best soccer in the world will bring joy and passion to millions of South Americans," CONMEBOL added in a further tweet.

"CONMEBOL thanks the president Jair Bolsonaro and his team, as well as the Brazilian Football Confederation for opening the doors of that country to what is today the safest sporting event in the world.

"South America will shine in Brazil with all its stars!"

CONMEBOL has confirmed the 2021 Copa America will go ahead as planned, with Brazil taking over hosting duties.

This year's edition of the tournament – postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina.

However, Colombia lost co-hosting status amid mounting political unrest in the country, while the event then needed to find a new location after a surge in coronavirus cases ruled out playing games in Argentina.

CONMEBOL met on Monday to determine the future of the competition, electing to move the tournament to Brazil, who were crowned champions on home soil in 2019.

A post from the governing body's official Twitter account read: "The CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 will be played in Brazil!

"Tournament start and end dates are confirmed. The venues and the fixture will be informed by CONMEBOL in the next few hours. The oldest national team tournament in the world will make the whole continent vibrate!"

The tournament will run from June 13 to July 10.

The Copa America has been thrown into disarray after CONMEBOL removed Argentina as hosts amid the country's coronavirus situation.

Argentina were set to stage the showpiece South American tournament, starting June 13 in Buenos Aires, following the governing body's decision to strip Colombia of co-hosting rights due to anti-government protests and COVID-19 concerns in the nation.

CONMEBOL had been identifying new locations in Argentina to replace Colombia ahead of next month's curtain-raiser between Lionel Messi's La Albiceleste and Chile at El Monumental.

Instead, Argentina will not stage the Copa America – already pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – as CONMEBOL considers new hosts.

Chile, Paraguay and the United States are reportedly the frontrunners to host the event.

"CONMEBOL informs that in view of the present circumstances it has been decided to suspend the development of the Copa America in Argentina," a statement read on Sunday.

"CONMEBOL analyses another offers from countries that showed interest in hosting the continental tournament."

Before the announcement, Argentina's interior minster Wado de Pedro had admitted it would be "very difficult" for the Copa America to be played in the country due to the COVID-19 situation.

"Today I was talking with the president about the health situation of certain jurisdictions, such as Mendoza, Cordoba, Tucuman and Santa Fe [the first two designated venues of the tournament], and due to the health diagnosis we see very difficult that the cup can be played in Argentina," De Pedro told C5N.

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