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.

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."

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.

Inter midfielder Arturo Vidal is isolating in hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.

The 34-year-old returned a positive test while with the Chile national team and looks set to miss the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Bolivia as a result.

La Roja sit sixth in the CONMEBOL qualification standings, two points behind fourth-placed Paraguay in the final automatic spot.

Vidal's participation in the Copa America, which kicks off on June 11, will not be in doubt should he recover as expected.

The Football Federation of Chile revealed the midfielder's diagnosis came after he was struck by a bout of tonsillitis.

A statement on the national team's official website said: "The medical staff of the Chilean national team point out that at the request of Arturo Vidal, it is announced that he was diagnosed in the daily preventive examination with positive COVID."

Posted on Monday evening, the statement added: "Arturo has been hospitalised and isolated from the group for more than 72 hours in a preventive measure indicated by the medical team, due to the presence of previously reported severe pleural tonsillitis, corroborated by specialists in infectious and respiratory diseases and with negative PCR controls.

"It is noted that all the rest of the delegation is with negative PCR today in accordance with health protocols."

In a post on his Instagram page, Vidal shared his belief that he had caught COVID-19 from a friend who had carried the virus without showing symptoms.

Chile will continue carrying out regular tests in order to ensure that one infection does not result in an outbreak.

Vidal joined his national team off the back of a successful season in which he helped Inter win the Serie A title under Antonio Conte.

Lionel Messi is "very excited" about the upcoming Copa America as Argentina eye a long-awaited title.

Argentina are set to host the 2021 Copa America after Colombia were stripped of co-hosting rights amid safety concerns in the country due to anti-government protests.

Messi's Argentina, who finished third in 2019 following back-to-back runners-up performances in 2015 and 2016, will open the South American tournament against Chile in Buenos Aires on June 13.

Argentina will also face Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia in Group A and Messi is relishing the Copa America as the superstar captain seeks his first senior trophy with La Albiceleste.

"I'm very excited and eager, I'll try to do things right," Messi said on Sunday, with Argentina riding an 11-match unbeaten streak.

"In the last Copa America we left a good image, but we cannot stay with that and we will have to continue growing.

"The last qualifying games we did well too, although it's been a long time since those games and we couldn't get back together, we'll have to get back on track quickly and keep growing."

"I'm always excited to compete with the national team, whatever game it is, we always want to win, it's always the same goal," added the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"The truth is that the youngest are eager and the oldest too, with the same or more eagerness. We are a very nice and united group with a good base that has already been working since [head coach Lionel] Scaloni started and some new ones who joined at the last moment. The important thing is to form a very strong group for the objectives that lie ahead."

Before their Copa America campaign, Argentina will meet Chile (June 3) and Colombia (June 8) in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc with matches postponed, but before COVID-19 led to suspensions, Argentina had won three of their first four games to be two points behind Brazil in second spot.

"I'm happy to be here with all my colleagues. It is a strange and different situation from what we usually live in and we cannot live in a normal way, but little by little we are getting together and working for the two qualifying games because both will be very difficult.

"All qualifying games are very tough. Chile are a great team with very good players, although they have a new coach and he didn't have many games, they have very experienced players base and many kids who are up to the task. They had a generational change like us and they are growing and preparing, it is a very competitive team.

"We try to comply with all the recommendations they give us, the last qualifying matches we had were very similar to what we are experiencing now, although now it is more serious due to the situation in the country. Unfortunately we are having a hard time, there are many infected, so we are trying to accommodate ourselves and comply with what they tell us to do everything well."

Chile have announced Reinaldo Rueda's tenure as coach has come to an end following an underwhelming start to World Cup qualification. 

Rueda had been in the post since early 2018, replacing Juan Antonio Pizzi after he failed to lead the team to the 2018 World Cup. 

Chile lost their Copa America crown under Rueda in 2019, having won each of the previous two editions, though they did get to the semi-finals. 

But Rueda's spell in charge has been largely unimpressive, with the team winning just nine of his 27 matches in charge, suffering 10 defeats. 

Rueda leaves Chile having only been able to accumulate four points from as many games at the start of qualification for the 2022 World Cup. 

His final game was the 2-1 defeat away to Venezuela on November 17.

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