Argentina striker Lucas Alario applauded "animal" Marcos Acuna after the Sporting CP star inspired Sunday's 6-1 friendly win over Ecuador.

Acuna, normally a left-sided attacker, has been deployed at full-back this season and filled that role impressively in Elche as Argentina romped to victory, coming in for Nicolas Tagliafico after he disappointed last time out.

The 27-year-old had a hand in the first three goals and was generally a lively presence up down the left flank.

Alario – who scored for the second match running – was particularly impressed, having opened the scoring with a header from Acuna's cross.

"Acuna is an animal," Alario told TyC Sports. "The routes he took… He was uncatchable.

"He runs all the time, he has a very good delivery and as a centre-forward, you have to take advantage of those qualities."

The victory ensures Argentina's international break will be seen in a largely positive light, having drawn 2-2 with Germany in a friendly on Wednesday, fighting back from 2-0 down.

Lionel Scaloni was left feeling encouraged, especially after being able to give so many players a run-out over the two games.

"In all the internationals we are satisfied, although it's true that because of the magnitude of the rivals we are also happy and that we could give many players minutes," Scaloni said.

"There is quality and desire to be here, too. We only need time and that the players play as they have done today [against Ecuador].

"The boys are understanding the changes and that must be valued. Honestly, I think these guys can give us a lot, although there are some things to correct.

"What I liked most was the last 20, 25 minutes, which was the period where the team pushed the most and ran despite the victory [already being secured].

"I am excited about the way these guys understand the meaning of this jersey. With these feelings it will be difficult to beat this team.

"There are five or six players who are the base and have always played. It is easy to know who they are: Lautaro Martinez, Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul, Nicolas Tagliafico, even Paulo Dybala and Marcos Acuna."

Argentina built on their promising second-half display against Germany by crushing Ecuador 6-1 in a friendly on Sunday, with Marcos Acuna playing a starring role.

Lionel Scaloni suggested the team produced their best performance of his tenure when fighting back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Die Mannschaft on Wednesday and they looked sharp again in Spain, albeit against more modest opposition.

As soon as Argentina took the lead through Lucas Alario's header, it never looked like being anything other than a comfortable win for La Albiceleste, who went into half-time three up thanks to a Jhon Espinoza own goal and Leandro Paredes' penalty – Acuna playing a role in each of the goals.

Angel Mena pulled one back early in the second half thanks to some woeful goalkeeping from Agustin Marchesin, but it was not the start of sensational comeback, as Argentina romped to victory with German Pezzella, Nicolas Dominguez and Lucas Ocampos getting in on the act.

But for an early Michael Estrada free-kick that flew just over, Argentina dominated the first half and were good value for the lead when Alario scored for the second game running, heading Acuna's corner in with 20 minutes played.

Acuna played a decisive role again seven minutes later, Pedro Ortiz failing to keep his left-wing cross out after it took a deflection off Espinoza.

It was 3-0 soon after thanks to Paredes' spot-kick – Dario Aimar penalised for fouling Lautaro Martinez following another teasing Acuna's delivery.

Ecuador made four half-time changes and one of those introduced took just three minutes to make his mark, as Mena found the top-right corner with a 30-yard free-kick from the inside-left channel to embarrass Marchesin, who seemingly thought it was going over.

Argentina stepped things up again, however, with Pezzella re-establishing the three-goal cushion 24 minutes from time with a header from Paulo Dybala's left-wing free-kick.

Dominguez then drilled a fine drive into the bottom-left corner and Ocampos rounded off an emphatic win from a tight angle after Ortiz had parried Dybala's curler.

 

What does it mean? La Albiceleste starting to click

There were hints of it in the second half against Germany, but Sunday's display provided more comprehensive proof that Argentina are beginning to find their groove once again.

While Ecuador are going through a difficult moment, Scaloni's side highlighted their technical qualities while working hard in a thoroughly professional showing.

Acuna stakes his claim

Nicolas Tagliafico's stranglehold on the left-back spot has frustrated some fans in recent times, particularly after a difficult outing against Germany. Acuna came in on Sunday and showed why many are calling for him to get a run in the side. Even if it was only against Ecuador, he was a constant threat on the left and his deliveries were exceptionally consistent.

Marchesin loses his bearings

Several Ecuador defenders produced unimpressive displays, but Argentina's Marchesin will go down as the flop of the match after his suspect goalkeeping for Mena's goal – the Porto man inexplicably letting it float over his head and into the net.

What's next?

Scaloni's men return to action next month in another friendly, as they face Paraguay in Bangladesh. Ecuador are yet to schedule any fixtures for the November international break.

Argentina captain Lionel Messi will make his return from suspension in November, insists head coach Lionel Scaloni.

Messi was handed a three-month ban from international football in August for accusing South America's governing body CONMEBOL of "corruption" during the Copa America.

After being controversially sent off in Argentina's third-place play-off win over Chile in July, Messi did not appear to collect his medal and the five-time Ballon d'Or winner later explained that he did not want to "be part of this corruption, this lack of respect towards the whole Copa".

Messi also blasted the officiating at the competition following Argentina's semi-final loss to hosts Brazil, before then suggesting referees and the VAR would favour Tite's men against Peru in the final, which the Selecao won 3-1.

The Argentina skipper has missed friendlies against Chile, Mexico and Germany, and he will sit out Sunday's clash with Ecuador ahead of next month's return.

Asked about Messi, Scaloni told reporters: "Messi is not here due to suspension.

"Sergio Aguero is not here because he's been carrying a problem and has not been training 100 per cent with his club.

"Surely both will be here next month."

Argentina are coming off a 2-2 draw away to Germany on Wednesday – a game in which Scaloni's men overturned a two-goal deficit in the second half.

Scaloni has already named his line-up for the match against Ecuador, with Agustin Marchesin, Juan Foyth, German Pezzella, Walter Kannemann, Marcos Acuna, Nicolas Gonzalez, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Lucas Ocampos, Lucas Alario and Lautaro Martinez starting.

"The idea is to play with attacking players. With players that get to the penalty area," Scaloni said.

"We believe that this is the right way. We take decisions thinking about what is best for the team."

Edinson Cavani said Uruguay are ready to fight for Copa America honours following their rout of Ecuador on Sunday.

Cavani and Luis Suarez scored as Uruguay opened their Group C campaign with a 4-0 demolition of 10-man Ecuador in Belo Horizonte.

Ecuador's Jose Quintero was sent off after Nicolas Lodeiro gave Uruguay a sixth-minute lead and it was one-way traffic from that point.

Cavani, Suarez and an own goal sealed a routine outing for Oscar Tabarez's Uruguay and the former revelled in the result.

"We are ready to fight in the Copa America," Cavani said post-game, with 15-time champions Uruguay seeking their first Copa title since 2011.

"We had chances in the first half, we could do it and that gave us the calm to handle the game. It was an important step."

Cavani, who scored his first Copa goal after 11 matches, added: "We knew they were going to be a very difficult opponent. The important thing was that we entered the game with maximum concentration and we achieved that."

After Paris Saint-Germain forward Cavani made it 2-0 past the half-hour mark, Suarez tripled the lead prior to the interval following Quintero's 24th-minute dismissal.

Suarez – who missed the end of Barcelona's season due to knee surgery – converted at the back post to heap further misery on Ecuador.

Mina then turned the ball into his own net with 12 minutes remaining – a goal that had been initially ruled out for offside before being overturned by VAR.

"Obviously, it's a positive result because we play the way we wanted to," Suarez told reporters. "But we played with an extra man in the first half.

"We will play the tournament with the same hope and the same desire prior to today's result."

Uruguay will next meet Copa America guests Japan in Porto Alegre on Thursday.

Many of the world's best players will be on show in Brazil over the next few weeks for the 2019 edition of the Copa America, but there will also be some talents hoping to use the tournament as a springboard.

For every Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez there will be a less familiar name attempting to establish himself on the international stage, potentially earning a big move.

The tournament sees the traditional CONMEBOL nations take part, plus guests Qatar and Japan, the latter of whom have named a squad mostly made up of players likely to feature in next year's Olympics.

With the Copa America starting on Friday, we have spoken to the experts to identify one potential breakout star to watch for each nation.

 

GROUP A

Brazil - David Neres (Ajax)

Tom Webber (Brazilian football expert): Following a stellar season with Champions League semi-finalists Ajax, Neres has a great chance to make his mark on the international stage. The 22-year-old winger is expected to be handed a starting role following Neymar's injury-enforced withdrawal, despite only making his first start in the 7-0 demolition of Honduras on June 9. Neres scored 12 goals and supplied 11 assists in all competitions for Ajax in 2018-19 and appears primed to make a mark on the Copa America, with plenty of interested parties likely to be keeping a close eye on him.

Bolivia - Edwin Saavedra (Bolivar)

Andres Mendez Dott (Bolivian football expert): Saavedra is a direct and explosive midfielder who started his career as right-back but now plays further forward. At the age of 23, he is closing in on 200 appearances for Bolivar and had a short spell at Brazilian side Goias. Humble off the pitch, he is rather more audacious on it, as he is not afraid to shoot from distance or take on defenders. Coach Eduardo Villegas is still undecided about his starting midfield, but we can expect Saaverdra to be a part of it. There are some rumours he might be deployed on the left, but either way, if he gets the ball and some space, you can count on him testing Dani Alves or Filipe Luis against Brazil. The Copa will be very challenging for Bolivia, but Saavedra could make his mark.

Peru - Renato Tapia (Willem II, on loan from Feyenoord)

Diego Montalvan (Peruvian sports journalist): If there's one player to watch in the Peru side, it's 23-year-old Renato Tapia, coming off arguably his best season in Europe with Willem II. The tournament will also enable him to put himself in the shop window, as he is reportedly looking for a transfer away from parent club Feyenoord. A central midfielder who can also fill in defensively, for Peru Tapia generally plays the role of destroyer to Yoshimar Yotun's creator, but if given the freedom to move forward he can create and even chip in with a few 'golazos'. 'El capitan del futuro', as he is called by many in Peru, is already an undisputed starter, but if he wants to stay in Europe he will have a point to prove in Brazil.

Venezuela - Wuilker Farinez (Millonarios)

Daniel Alvarez Montes (Venezuelan sports journalist): Farinez was part of the Venezuela squad in Chile for the 2015 Copa America when he was just 17. Many criticised then-coach Noel Sanvicente for that decision, knowing Farinez was not going to play. However, Sanvicente insisted it was a great opportunity for Farinez to grow. Four years later, we can say that decision was arguably his best one while in charge of La Vinotinto. Farinez played a significant role for Venezuela's youth sides after that, making a huge impact in tournaments at several age levels. Currently playing for Millonarios in Colombia, the Copa America will be a massive opportunity for him to show the world what he is capable of. Europe could be his next stop, with Benfica front-runners to acquire him.

GROUP B

Argentina - Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis)

Peter Coates (Buenos Aires-based football writer): Finding a balance in midfield, linking defence to attack and crucially providing a partner for Lionel Messi have been issues for Argentina for several years. A new-look squad for the Copa America sees much of that responsibility fall on the shoulders of Lo Celso and coach Lionel Scaloni has already spoken highly of the 23-year-old, hoping the Real Betis playmaker and the world's best player can reproduce a relationship he has already witnessed on the training field. Something akin to an old-fashioned 'enganche' of yesteryear, Lo Celso will operate in the spaces behind the striker and allow Messi to roam off the right with his usual menace. The Rosario Central product's eye for a pass, ability to work in tight spaces and sweet left foot could make him the ideal partner for Messi and crucial to La Albiceleste's success.

 

Paraguay - Matias Rojas (Defensa y Justicia)

Roberto Rojas (Paraguayan journalist): Rojas is expected to be La Albirroja's breakout player in this Copa America. A product of the esteemed Cerro Porteno academy, the 23-year-old followed the path of various Paraguayans looking to get their first break abroad by heading to Argentina, where he was initially loaned to Lanus in 2017, before joining modest Defensa y Justicia the following year. He became a key player for Sebastian Beccacece's team, who secured an historic second-place finish in the 2018-19 Superliga. A central midfielder known for his passing and dangerous set-pieces, Rojas has already signed a contract to join Racing Club, who finished just ahead of Defensa y Justicia. Paraguay manager Eduardo Berizzo is likely to play Rojas in a 4-3-3 formation, where he will be expected to combine with Newcastle United's Miguel Almiron as the team's two-man creative hub.

Qatar - Almoez Ali (Al-Duhail)

Martin Lowe (Asian football expert): Ali went from relative obscurity to the name on everyone's lips at the Asian Cup, finishing as the highest-scoring player and breaking Ali Daei's record with nine goals from seven matches as Qatar claimed a surprise success. A languid target man with strength and the eye for a goal, he threatens from even the trickiest situations and cemented his MVP status at the Asian Cup with an outrageous bicycle kick in the final. Ali – born in Sudan – remains a contentious case amid questions over his eligibility, but he has been allowed to continue representing Qatar. He blossomed in a number of international youth teams, tending to fill his boots whenever he got the opportunity. His all-round game has improved, having been shifted out wide for his club side Al-Duhail, but he is mostly used as a static focal point with more creative types such as Akram Afif and Hassan Al-Haydos playing off him.

Colombia - Luis Diaz (Junior)

Simon Edwards (South American football writer): Diaz is a hugely exciting winger who will be tasked with bringing fresh impetus to Colombia off the bench. He was spotted by Carlos Valderrama and 'El Pibe' recommended Junior snap him up. He has become a star of Colombian league football, with offers received from River Plate and Cardiff City. Diaz plays with the fearless enthusiasm and the joy of a child, but has also complimented his unpredictable, weaving dribbles with goals and improved defensive discipline. He is now a complete attacking midfielder who tracks back and provides a threat. Diaz draws defenders but has the skill and invention to craft a solution. 'Luchito' will take risks and lose possession occasionally, but he also has the quality, pace and confidence to have a huge impact for this Colombia side.

GROUP C

Chile - Erick Pulgar (Bologna)

Adam Brandon (Chile-based South American football writer): Erick Pulgar will probably be given a chance to shine in central midfield in the Copa America after his stellar season with Bologna in Italy. The 25-year-old is good on the ball, passes well and can play a more defensive role as well. He also boasts an excellent penalty record, which could come in handy for Chile again in this Copa America, given how the 2015 and 2016 finals were won.

Japan - Takefusa Kubo (FC Tokyo)

Stuart Smith (Japan-based football writer): Japanese fans will line up to tell you 18-year-old attacker Takefusa Kubo, currently with FC Tokyo but almost certainly headed to a big European club very soon, is the Samurai Blue's player to watch. Small, fleet-footed and not afraid to try tricks, he has shown a maturity beyond his years this season in the J.League. He spent his formative years at Barcelona's famed La Masia, and his technical ability is a testament to that period. Excellent with both feet, extremely skilful and able to spot and drift into spaces that other players cannot, Kubo has the potential to develop into an outstanding player. Coach Hajime Moriyasu will try to manage expectations, but it will be difficult to keep such a talented player off the pitch for too long.

Ecuador - Jhegson Sebastian Mendez (Orlando City)

Xavier Zavala (Ecuadorian football analyst): Coach Hernan Dario Gomez will implement a defensive approach that will appeal to Mendez's greatest strengths, which are his tackling efficiency and relentless motor. The 22-year-old midfielder has shown he is capable of man marking without being rash or overly aggressive and his position with Ecuador will be similar to at Orlando City, where he plays a deep-lying role. The challenge he has is dislodging the Liga de Quito partnership of Jefferson Orejuela and Jefferson Intriago, but given the stamina the system used by 'El Bolillo' requires, rotation is to be expected. Once Mendez gets his chance, he will be in a position to prove his worth.

Uruguay - Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors)

Nick Dorrington (freelance South American football journalist): Nandez is an all-action midfielder who has become a regular for Uruguay over the last year or so, usually playing off the right-hand side. A boundlessly energetic little terrier of a player, he snaps away at the heels of opponents, runs up and down and back again, and gets the ball forward quickly. He is also capable of moments of genuine quality, such as the ball he played through to release Dario Benedetto for Boca Juniors' goal in their Copa Libertadores final defeat to River Plate in December. Linked with a move to Europe, the Copa America could be a useful shop window for the 23-year-old.

Mexico's perfect record under Gerardo Martino continued with an entertaining 3-2 win over Ecuador in Texas on Sunday.

Ecuador had twice come from behind at AT&T Stadium, goals from Angel Mena and Ayrton Preciado cancelling out efforts from Jonathan dos Santos and Luis Montes.

But Mexico found a late winner in their final game before the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Luis Rodriguez's 77th-minute volley settling the encounter.

Ecuador were almost gifted a dream start, Mexico defender Rodriguez clearing a ball into his own post after goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa pushed away a cross from the right.

But that would be one of Ecuador's only chances in the first half as Mexico dominated.

Orbelin Pineda forced a save from Maximo Banguera after being played in by Dos Santos in the 18th minute, before later seeing a shot deflected wide.

Mexico continued to build into the encounter, Montes shooting over from range before Dos Santos' second international goal.

The LA Galaxy midfielder ran at the Ecuador defence before curling a beautiful effort from 25 yards into the bottom corner.

While Mexico went into the break ahead, their advantage disappeared just two minutes into the second half.

Mena, introduced at half-time, saw a 25-yard free-kick deflect off the wall, wrong-footing Ochoa and finding the back of the net.

Mexico restored their lead just after the hour-mark through Montes, who produced a moment of magic with a free-kick of his own.

After a clumsy handball led to the free-kick being awarded, Montes curled a strike over the wall and into the top corner from just outside the area.

However, Mexico's lead lasted just three minutes before Preciado headed in a Mena corner for his first international goal to bring Ecuador level once more.

The winner came through Rodriguez, who volleyed in Jesus Gallardo's delivery at the back post with his maiden strike at international level.

What does it mean? Mexico show why they are Gold Cup favourites

This win made it four from four for Martino since he took charge of Mexico in January. The victory over Ecuador added to wins against Chile, Paraguay and Venezuela, showing why Mexico go into the Gold Cup as favourites.

Dos Santos finds goal-scoring form for Mexico

It took Dos Santos 40 games to score his first international goal, but his effort against Ecuador marked his second in as many Mexico outings. It was a fine strike from distance, adding another element to Mexico that Martino will surely find useful in the future.

More injury woes for Mexico

Just days after Edson Alvarez was hurt against Venezuela, there was another injury worry for Mexico. Hector Moreno came off in the first half with a suspected muscle injury, adding another unwanted concern for Martino.

What's next?

Mexico begin their Gold Cup campaign against Cuba on Saturday, while Ecuador face Uruguay in their Copa America opener on June 16.

The United States maintained their perfect record under head coach Gregg Berhalter with a 1-0 victory over Ecuador in an international friendly.

Gyasi Zardes made it three wins from three matches since Berhalter's appointment after breaking the deadlock nine minutes from time in Orlando.

Zardes' long-range shot deflected off a defender and looped over Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez as Berhalter became just the second USA coach after Bob Bradley in 2007 to win each of his first three games.

The USA were flawless heading into the international fixture after wins against Panama and Costa Rica and they made a bright start on Thursday.

Paul Arriola, Christian Pulisic and Zardes were in the thick of the action against Ecuador, who had a lot to thank Dominguez for during the early exchanges.

Ecuador – headlined by Manchester United veteran Antonion Valencia earning his 94th cap – slowly found their feet and started to get on the ball, though the USA should have taken the lead approaching the half-hour mark.

Some lovely interchange play between Zardes and Pulisic set up Arriola with a one-on-one chance just outside the six-yard box but Dominguez used his outstretched leg to thwart the Americans.

Berhalter's men did put the ball in the net four minutes later, however, it was ruled out of for offside, though replays showed it was a very close call on Jordan Morris.

Ecuador – who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup like the United States – managed to get in behind before half-time thanks to Beder Caicedo, whose shot flashed just over the crossbar in a timely warning for the hosts.

The South American visitors defended well and they continued to do so in the second half amid a host of substitutions for both sides, which impacted the rhythm of the match.

Ecuador – who offered little in attack – looked comfortable in defence as they match appeared to be petering out for a draw.

However, Dominguez went from hero to villain after he was caught scrambling off his line by Zardes, who secured a third successive victory and clean sheet.

 

What does it mean? Berhalter and Co. on track

This is the last break before the USA's CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign gets underway in June. There is work to do for the Americans but fans should be encouraged by a performance that was capped with a goal.

USA continue to impress

With Pulisic – who will join Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season – back in the starting line-up, there were more encouraging signs for the USA. The 20-year-old, like his team-mates, showed glimpses of their potential – especially in the first half – with plenty of pace and passing as they continue to rebuild under Berhalter.

McKennie carried off

It is not what the coaching staff and supporters wanted to see. The 20-year-old Schalke midfielder hurt his ankle and had to leave the field on a stretcher. The only blight on an otherwise positive night for the USA.

What's next?

The USA welcome Chile to Houston on Tuesday, while Ecuador are on the road against Honduras on the same day.

Goals in either half of Ecuador's match against Jamaica's Reggae Boyz made for an easy stroll of their visit to the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. 

Since the end of Jamaica’s failed bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, overseas-based players have not been used by national coach Theodore Whitmore, but that all looks set to change with the announcement of a 23-man squad for the start of the CONCACAF Nations League. 

Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz are set to play a friendly international against Ecuador just two days before the start of the Nations League next month and the 2019 Gold Cup.

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