Uruguay face Bolivia in the Copa America on Thursday and need Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez to start producing in attack.

After losing their opening match to Argentina, Oscar Tabarez's men drew 1-1 with Chile on matchday two to breathe a bit of life into their campaign.

The goal was their first since November 2020, yet it came via Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal, who turned into his own net under pressure from Suarez.

Uruguay's problems in attack are clear: they have the lowest shooting accuracy at the Copa America (20 per cent), and the worst shot conversion rate (five per cent).

That is in spite of the fact they boast a strike partnership in Suarez and Cavani who have plundered 114 international goals between them. They have only managed a combined seven shots at these finals, six of which came against Chile.

Uruguay do, at least, have a strong recent record against Bolivia, who have lost to Paraguay and Chile at this tournament and only won one of their past 12 meetings with La Celeste – a qualifier for the 2014 World Cup.

Indeed, Bolivia are on a 10-game winless run in Copa America matches played in Brazil and have not beaten Uruguay at a neutral venue since 1949.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Bolivia – Roberto Fernandez

Fernandez belied his inexperience with a strong performance against Chile, making six clearances and four interceptions at left-back, with only two team-mates having more than his 67 touches of the ball.

He could find himself in with a tough battle against Federico Valverde down the Uruguay right.

Uruguay – Facundo Torres

Torres attempted three shots and created two chances against Chile, as many as Cavani managed, despite the 21-year-old only coming on for the final 30 minutes.

This could be a good opportunity for Tabarez to hand the Penarol forward a chance to impress from the start.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Uruguay have lost only one of their past 12 games against Bolivia in all competitions (W8 D3), 1-0 in La Paz in World Cup 2014 qualifying. 
- Uruguay have won 11 of their 13 games against Bolivia at neutral venues (D1 L1). The only win for Bolivia was in 1949, 3-2 in Rio de Janeiro in the Copa America.
- Bolivia have lost their past five games and have failed to win in their previous 10 Copa America matches played in Brazil (D2 L8). They have won only four games in the competition in this country, all of them at the 1949 edition.
- Bolivia have the lowest possession average (31.2 per cent) but the highest forward passes percentage (39.4 per cent of their 597 total passes) at the tournament.
- Uruguay have the lowest shooting accuracy at the Copa America 2021: only the 20 per cent (4/20) of their shots have been on target. They have the lowest shot conversion rate, too (five per cent).

For a period in the build-up to the 1-1 draw between Uruguay and Chile, it was anyone's guess as to whether the game would go ahead or not, with the Chilean ranks appearing to be in chaos.

While the Football Federation of Chile (FFC) accepted a group of unnamed players had broken its COVID-secure bubble by bringing a barber into the team hotel, further allegations refused to go away.

Media reports claimed there was a second breach that revolved around several women being brought into accommodation, and head coach Martin Lasarte was apparently considering resigning over the matter.

It didn't stop there. The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) is said to have asked CONMEBOL to check security footage from the hotel to see if there was only the one breach, seemingly in the hope of being awarded the three points in the event of major sanctions.

As it was, three of the Chile players allegedly involved were named in the starting XI in Cuiaba, and perhaps it was predictable – in more than one sense – that one of them put La Roja in front.

Eduardo Vargas latched on to Ben Brereton's clever first-touch offload and burst into the right side of the penalty area. Having noticed he had no one else in support, the Atletico Mineiro forward lashed a right-footed striker beyond Fernando Muslera and into the top-left corner.

Vargas wheeled away and, just before sharing a strong embrace with Chile's unlikely new hero Brereton, the goalscorer made a 'talking' gesture with his hand, presumably showing his disapproval of the chatter surrounding he and his team-mates in the last few days.

In converting, Vargas moved above the likes of Gabriel Batistuta in the Copa America's all-time leading scorers rankings, going joint-fifth with Paolo Guerrero on 14 – the record, shared by Norberto Mendez and Zizinho with 17, is certainly within his reach.

Vargas' need to be withdrawn could play a role in that regard, however, as the 31-year-old went off just before the hour clutching the back of his thigh.

Nevertheless, his job was done to a certain extent, Vargas' goal a devastating show of clinical finishing that Uruguay just haven't seen in recent times – and not just in the Copa America.

La Celeste went into the game without scoring in their previous four games, a run that stretched back to November when Darwin Nunez netted the last in a 3-0 win over Colombia.

They were especially toothless in attack – despite the presence of talismanic duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani – in their first match against Argentina, their 0.1 xG (expected goals) a tournament-low figure only previously achieved by Venezuela (against Brazil and Colombia) in this year's competition.

In fact, at the halfway point on Monday, Suarez and Cavani had only managed one shot on target between them in 135 minutes of Copa football – that solitary accurate attempt coming in the first half in Cuiaba as Claudio Bravo made a necessary, albeit expected, block to deny the Atletico Madrid man.

Of course, a key nuance to the struggles of Uruguay's front two would be that the service to them had been underwhelming – so much so that Suarez appeared determined to try and take matters into his own hands as a cross forced the Chile defence into action just before the break, while he also played a match-high three key passes over the course of the 90 minutes.

It arguably wasn't until the inexperienced Facundo Torres – making just his fourth appearance for Uruguay – came on in the 60th minute that La Celeste started to look genuinely lively in attack, though.

The 21-year-old quickly saw a rasping volley tipped wide by Bravo, and his lovely delivery from the resulting corner was flicked on by Matias Vecino, and the ball subsequently found its way in via a combination of Suarez and Vidal, who was ultimately credited with the own goal.

While further chances came and went at either end, a stalemate felt a fitting end to a match largely lacking in real quality.

But such situations are surely a by-product of the tournament's jeopardy-sapping format, with all but two of the 10 teams involved across the two groups set to reach the quarter-finals.

 

For those in Group A, it's a case of 'do better than Bolivia and you're through' – over the course of their four games, it would be a major shock if either Uruguay were to fail in that regard, while the point here sealed Chile's route through to the next round.

The main thing here for Uruguay was to finally get a goal on the board, even if it was given to Vidal, as it should provide something of a boost to their mentality, especially after significant criticism in the wake of that defeat to Argentina.

As such, it was all hugs and smiles between the two teams at full-time, with Chile and Uruguay well aware that dropping points here won't permanently burst their Copa bubble.

Chile claimed a place in the knockout stages of the Copa America despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Uruguay.

Eduardo Vargas opened the scoring in Cuiaba, but an Arturo Vidal own goal ensured it ended honours even, a result that means Chile can no longer finish bottom of Group A.

It also helped Uruguay get off the mark after defeat to Argentina in their opener, though Oscar Tabarez's side still have work to do reach the quarter-finals of the competition.

A lively start to proceedings saw Edinson Cavani force an outstanding save from Claudio Bravo with a close-range header, only for the Chilean goalkeeper to be denied the glory by a late offside flag.

The officials also waved away Chile claims for a penalty moments later for the same reason, though Martin Lasarte's side would not be denied for long.

Vargas looked to still have plenty to do after a slick one-two with Ben Brereton had taken him into the box, but he produced a brilliant finish from a tight angle to put his team ahead.

And, though Chile subsequently lost defender Guillermo Maripan to injury, Uruguay struggled to create anything of note before the half-time break.

The second period started in a similar fashion, but Chile's hopes were dealt a further blow when Vargas limped off with an apparent hamstring issue.

Aided by a flurry of substitutes, Uruguay began to build pressure, and that told with just over 20 minutes remaining, Vidal adjudged to have got the final touch under pressure as Luis Suarez looked to turn in a Matias Vecino flick-on from a corner.

Boosted by their equaliser, Tabarez's men dominated much of the closing stages, though they were denied a first win of the tournament as an obstinate Chile defence stood firm.

What does it mean? Chile a contender

They may have been pegged back here, but Chile's unbeaten start to this tournament has been an impressive one and no team will look forward to facing them in the last eight.

As for Uruguay, they showed the combination of graft and craft that will surely see them come alive should they secure passage into the business end of the Copa America.

Brereton stands out again

This is proving to be a breakout tournament for England-born Brereton, who followed up a goal against Bolivia last time out with an assist in this one. Chile are clearly benefiting from his presence as a focal point.

Cavani fails to fire

Uruguay would have turned one point into three had Cavani followed his partner in crime Suarez onto the scoresheet, but the Manchester United striker failed to even find the target with his all three of his shots across the 90 minutes.

What's next?

Chile finish off their fixtures in the group stage against Paraguay in Brasilia on Thursday, while Uruguay contest their penultimate game against Bolivia in Cuiaba on the same day.

Uruguay will need to end a barren run in front of goal if they are to topple unbeaten Chile in Copa America Group A on Monday. 

La Celeste fell 1-0 to Argentina on Friday in their tournament opener, marking the fourth consecutive game in which Uruguay were unable to find the back of the net dating back to November. 

Oscar Tabarez's side will need more from the seasoned attacking duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, who each played a relatively quiet 90 minutes against their rivals. 

Uruguay did not manage to put a shot on goal despite having the majority of the possession, and will need a better effort against a confident Chile side. 

But Tabarez believes his side has time to figure things out in the remaining group-stage matches against Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia.  

"Our championship will be played in the next three games, where we aspire to qualify," said Uruguay's legendary head coach. "We must do what is necessary to get to the next phase."

While Uruguay struggle to find their footing, La Roja are joint leaders in the group with Argentina after their 1-0 defeat of Bolivia on Friday on the heels of an opening 1-1 draw against La Albiceleste.

Chile could have had far more against Bolivia, as they put 11 shots on goal, but La Roja have to be pleased with their form under new head coach Martin Lasarte. 

The Montevideo-born Lasarte is unbeaten in five matches (2W, 3D) since being appointed in February. 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Edinson Cavani

After missing the previous two games through suspension, the 34-year-old believed he had won a penalty in the 27th minute against Argentina before the referee waved off his appeal. Cavani had the lone goal in a 1-0 win against Chile in their 2019 Copa America group-stage meeting. 

Chile – Ben Brereton

The England-born striker, whose mother is Chilean, made his international debut in the tournament-opening draw with Argentina and scored in the 10th minute of La Roja's 1-0 defeat of Bolivia on Friday. 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Uruguay and Chile have not drawn in the last eight official matches they have played: five wins for Uruguay and three for Chile.

- Uruguay have won three of their last four official matches against the Chile (L1). Uruguay have not lost against Chile since November 2016 (1-3).

- Chile have scored in their last nine games in all competitions (W3 D4 L2). The last time La Roja failed to score was in a 0-0 draw against Colombia in a friendly game on October 2019.

- Uruguay will try to record their first shot on target in the competition after failing to register one in their opening fixture against Argentina.

- Chile's Mauricio Isla is, along with Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), the leader of the competition in terms of ball interceptions (six each).

Lionel Scaloni said Argentina produced the "extra rage" they needed to end their run of draws with a 1-0 Copa America victory over rivals Uruguay on Friday.

Lionel Messi crossed for Guido Rodriguez to head in the 13th-minute winner for Argentina's first victory of this year's Copa America after their opening 1-1 draw with Chile.

Scaloni has come under pressure following Argentina's run of three draws, blowing a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Colombia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying along with a 1-1 home draw with Chile on the roar to Qatar 2022 earlier this month.

"I honestly believe that in the previous matches we also deserved to win, but due to small mistakes we were only able to draw," head coach Scaloni said during his post-match news conference.

"Today the team gave the extra rage so that they don't convert us and once we were winning we were able to withstand the opponent's attacks. Today we were good both in attack and defence."

Argentina – amid a 15-game unbeaten run – were strong defensively, having denied Uruguay any shots on target throughout the match, the second time it has occurred in a competitive game under Scaloni.

In attack, Messi was named man of the match for the second consecutive game, providing the assist for the decisive moment in the game.

"Messi and all his team-mates made a great effort," Scaloni said. "He speaks very well of the commitment of all the players and fills us with pride.

"They do it for the shirt of their country. This is going to be hard, but the way is this."

Real Betis midfielder Rodriguez was one of four changes to the Argentina starting XI from the side which drew with Chile and Scaloni was delighted with his display.

Argentina have scored 10 of their last 11 goals in the first half across World Cup qualifying and the Copa America. In this period, only Joaquin Correa, against Bolivia, has scored a goal in the second half.

"Guido was always with us and we have valued his commitment for a long time, with his way of training and his way of supporting his team-mates," Scaloni said. "Today he had his chance and he did not waste it."

Argentina are next in action against Paraguay in Brasilia on Sunday.

Friday did not go according to plan for Uruguay. La Celeste were beaten 1-0 by Lionel Messi's Argentina in their Copa America opener.

It was another match and another blank for Uruguay, who have not scored this calendar year amid a four-game winless streak.

Not since 2013 have Uruguay got the better of their old rivals, while Argentina are undefeated in five games against Uruguay at the Copa America.

Despite Uruguay's current problems and attacking woes, even with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in the line-up, Oscar Tabarez's legend continues to grow.

Tabarez is battling an ailment but is still serving the football-mad nation, dating back to 2006.

His story is not only legendary, but inspirational.

Tabarez has Guillain-Barre syndrome – a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system.

But that has not stopped the 74-year-old in his second stint in charge of Uruguay, having also coached La Celeste from 1988 to 1990.

Responsible for resurrecting Uruguay, Tabarez still celebrates goals even as an elderly man with a stick, struggling to walk.

"I am not living with any pain. This neuropathy sometimes causes me problems, especially to walk. But since this is a chronic illness, sometimes I am a little better," Tabarez previously said, having been expected to resign in 2016 following the diagnosis.

Tabarez, remarkably, is overseeing his seventh Copa America campaign. He guided Uruguay to their 15th CONMEBOL crown in 2011 and first since 1995.

Only three other coaches have managed more Copa America matches than Tabarez – a primary school teacher before embarking on a coaching career that has taken him to the likes of Boca Juniors and Milan.

On his watch, Uruguay have reached the quarter-finals on three occasions, finishing fourth in 2007. Tabarez's team also rode a wave en route to the 2010 World Cup semi-finals. A last-16 berth and quarter-final appearance followed in 2014 and 2018.

"What the Teacher achieved in this time is very big because he started totally from scratch," Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera said previously. "He has created everything we achieved and what is yet to come. If Uruguay is this respected worldwide it is because he made it."

Fast forward to 2021. His 31st meeting with La Albiceleste was a fruitless one for Tabarez and Uruguay, who have not conquered Argentina in Copa competition since 1989.

Uruguay have their work cut out this year but Tabarez has built a team that can never be underestimated.

More importantly, while silverware is at the forefront of El Maestro's mind, this is a story about human endeavour and a hero with an unwavering belief and refusal to quit.

Lionel Messi set up the winner as Argentina edged rivals Uruguay 1-0 to claim their first victory of the 2021 Copa America in Brasilia on Friday.

Argentina, who have not lifted the Copa America since 1993, had drawn 1-1 with Chile in their opening game but secured three points thanks to Guido Rodriguez's first international goal in the 13th minute.

Messi pulled the strings for 14-time Copa runners-up La Albiceleste – beaten finalists in 2015 and 2016 – with his cross from the left flank finding Real Betis midfielder Rodriguez for his winner, which snapped Argentina's run of three consecutive draws while extending their unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

Uruguay, playing their first game of this year's CONMEBOL tournament, were left frustrated by a resolute Argentina, while they were left to bemoan a first-half penalty shout which was turned down.

Argentina started brightly as Messi stung the palms of Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera with a curling seventh-minute effort, before Nicolas Otamendi had a header saved.

Messi then created space down the left for a cross which found Rodriguez, who nodded in off the inside of the post for his maiden Argentina goal.

In the 27th minute, Uruguay had a penalty shout turned down when Rodriguez appeared to make slight contact with Edinson Cavani inside the box.

Argentina raced down the other end with Messi laying off for Nahuel Molina, who tested Muslera at the near post.

Opportunities were few and far between in the second half, with Uruguay star Cavani almost glancing in a half-chance in the 69th minute while a subdued Luis Suarez flashed a volley over as Uruguay built some momentum.

Argentina struggled to create anything of note after the break, relying in attack on Messi, who was regularly crowded out by Uruguay's defence.

 

Lionel Messi issued something of a rallying cry as Argentina attempt to kick-start their Copa America campaign against Uruguay on Friday.

Messi scored Argentina's only goal – a gorgeous free-kick – last time out, but it was not enough to seal a victory against Chile.

Eduardo Vargas levelled for La Roja after Arturo Vidal failed to convert an initial penalty, and despite Argentina creating a plethora of chances, they could not find a way past Claudio Bravo again.

Nicolas Gonzalez, who is reportedly close to joining Brighton and Hove Albion, was particularly culpable, spurning several good opportunities. He had six shots with a total xG (expected goals) value of 1.2, but he failed to find the net with any of them – Neymar is the only player with a higher xG (1.5) who failed to score so far.

 

As it turns out, Lionel Scaloni is reportedly considering resting Gonzalez due to him coming into the tournament with an injury, though Cristian Romero is potentially in line for a return at the back after a thigh issue.

Whoever plays, Messi is looking to ensure they are suitably motivated ahead of what will undoubtedly be another bruising encounter, given the historic rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay, who have not lost any of their last five Copa America games (after 90 minutes).

On his official Instagram account, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner wrote: "We are prepared to compete and we will continue fighting to win every game. Vamos Argentina!"

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Nicolas Otamendi

While Argentina certainly are not shy of talent going forward, they are less convincing at the back. Otamendi has come in for criticism in recent times lately, and even posted a message on social media this week addressing the situation, saying: "Don't allow the noise of other people's opinions to silence your inner voice. Always be positive." But in fairness to him, his four tackles was twice as many as any of his team-mates last time out, while his six clearances was five more than anyone else.

Uruguay – Lucas Torreira

Sure, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani carry a lot of responsibility going forward for Uruguay, but they need to do their best to keep Messi quiet as well. A fool's errand that may be, but – if he starts – Torreira is likely to have some say in whether or not La Celeste can keep the Barcelona man quiet. A feisty competitor and tough tackler, his potential duel with Messi could be crucial.

KEY OPTA FACTS

-Argentina and Uruguay will meet in a Copa America campaign after going two tournaments without doing so (2016 and 2019). La Albiceleste are unbeaten in their last four meetings against La Celeste (W3 D1). The last Uruguay win was in 1989.

-Argentina have lost just one of their last nine meetings with Uruguay in all competitions (W5 D3). Their last defeat against Uruguay was in October 2013.

-Uruguay come into this game on an unbeaten run of five games (90 minutes only). Their last defeat in 90 minutes in this competition was in June 2016 (0-1 vs Venezuela).

-Argentina scored with only six per cent of their shots – the lowest conversion ratio of any team in the opening round of games.

-Oscar Tabarez will be managing his seventh Copa America. He will face Argentina for the 31st time and is the manager with the fourth-most games overseen in this tournament.

There are aspects to the Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez of 2021 that make them wonderfully reflective of the Uruguay national team.

Impassioned? Yes. Belligerent? Certainly. A footballing pedigree to rival the best in the world? Absolutely.

What about quality? After all those years, are they still match-winners, entertainers, undimmed by the passing of time? Of course they are. Just ask Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

Last August, Suarez was informed by new Barca coach Ronald Koeman that he would not be in his plans at Camp Nou. Too old to be relied upon, too expensive to bench seemed to be the feeling. Regardless, the Catalans reportedly had a list of teams to whom they would not sell Suarez for fear of the deal coming back to haunt them, a list that, apparently, inexplicably, did not include Atletico Madrid. He duly went to the capital on a two-year deal.

Likewise, Cavani seemed to be offloaded all too readily by PSG, who had just lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich and appeared eager to freshen things up without their record goalscorer. Manchester United were, eventually, the team to gamble on the striker, who joined on a one-year deal with an option for another in October, by which time the Red Devils had failed to sign top target Jadon Sancho and been linked with several other alternatives.

Both players, then, had a point to prove. Boy, did they prove it.

 

Suarez scored twice and set up another on his LaLiga debut for Atleti in a 6-1 win over Granada in September. He then scored three times for Uruguay in the October international break, and again in the 3-0 win at Colombia in November.

From December 19 to February 8, Suarez scored 11 goals in nine league games, including three braces in a run of four matches. He would end the season with winners against Osasuna and Real Valladolid, his 21 goals overall securing 21 points for Atleti throughout the campaign, the most of any player in the competition. And, of course, he won the title, for the fifth time in seven seasons.

Not that such a contribution should really have been in doubt. While he may no longer be quite the all-round dynamo of his Liverpool and early Barca days, his ruthlessness in the opposition box has scarcely diminished; since 2011-12, only Lionel Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top five leagues than Suarez (325).

 

Unlike his international team-mate, Cavani ended the club season empty-handed, despite scoring United's goal in the Europa League final with Villarreal, which they lost on penalties. Still, few could argue Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's decision to sign him was a mistake.

Cavani did not play a full league game until December 29, and he served a three-game domestic ban for a social media post deemed racist by the Football Association, a decision decried as culturally insensitive in Uruguay. He still ended 2020-21 with 17 goals and five assists at a rate of one goal every 128 minutes, the best return of any United player. He also became the third Red Devil to score 10 or more Premier League goals in a single season in which he was 33 or older at the start (also Teddy Sheringham in 2000-01 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016-17), and he equalled the record of five substitute goals over a whole campaign held by Javier Hernandez (2010-11) and Solskjaer (1998-99).

In the Europa League last-four tie against Roma, Cavani became the first player to score at least twice in each leg of a major European semi-final since 1986, when Klaus Allofs did so for Cologne against KSV Waregem. He was also the oldest player to score twice and assist twice in a Champions League or Europa League match, at 34 years and 74 days old. No wonder Solskjaer was so desperate to see him accept the one-year extension to his contract, and was presumably so relieved when he did.

Cavani and Suarez finished 2020-21 on 22 and 24 direct goal involvements, respectively. Among South America players, only Messi (50), Luis Muriel (36), Duvan Zapata  (31), Lautaro Martinez (26) and Neymar (25) had more.

 

So they come, then, to the Copa America, as two of the remaining members of that squad that lifted the trophy in 2011. They have the form, and undoubtedly the pedigree; they are Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorers, Suarez on 63 and Cavani 51.

And yet Uruguay are often consigned to the also-rans when it comes to tournament predictions. While they have waited a decade to lift the trophy, they are the most successful team in the competition's history, with the most appearances (45) and titles (15), yet few will look beyond emergency hosts Brazil and Argentina as favourites or Chile and Colombia as outside bets.

Perhaps the problem lies in a perception of bluntness around Uruguay's play, far removed from the ideals of jogo bonito. Despite holding the most Copa America titles, Uruguay boast a worse goal-per-game average (2.02) at the tournament than Argentina or Brazil; somewhat fittingly, their last triumph a decade ago came in the worst finals for goalscoring (54 in 26, or 2.08 per match) since 1922 (22 in 11, or 2.00 per match). Oscar Tabarez's men have also gone three games without a goal since a 3-0 win over Colombia last November.

If only they had a couple of star strikers who have spent the past year defying the doubters...

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.

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.

Luis Suarez was determined to prove his doubters wrong after getting the chance to continue playing at the highest level with Atletico Madrid.

Suarez left Barcelona after a 2019-20 season that saw the Spanish giants finish without a trophy. Having lost out to Real Madrid in a tight title race, hopes of Champions League glory were emphatically ended at the quarter-final stage by Bayern Munich.

The Uruguay striker had scored 21 goals in all competitions yet was deemed surplus to requirements at Camp Nou, allowed to leave on the cheap as he remained within LaLiga at Atleti.

Barca have watched on as their former player has scored 19 league goals to help Diego Simeone's squad push to be crowned Spanish champions - they top the table by two points with two games remaining, the first of which is at home to Osasuna on Sunday.

For Suarez, the desire to succeed following his switch to the capital was fuelled by those who had declared him to be in a state of decline.

"You like a challenge. And coming here was a very big challenge for me for many things," he said in an interview for Club del Deportista magazine.

"Last year I received criticism and they said that I was not here to compete for important things, or that at Barcelona I could not compete at a high level.

"That will generate a challenge to an individual, you want to continue to demonstrate that you can do something at the elite level of football, something I've been demonstrating as the kind of player I am for many years.

"I experienced it as a great challenge and with great enthusiasm. I'm not sorry at all, on the contrary, excited and eager to continue demonstrating."

Suarez also revealed his future plans at international level as he intends to finish his Uruguay career after next year's World Cup in Qatar.

The 34-year-old is his country's all-time leading scorer and helped them win the 2011 Copa America, a year after a fourth-place finish at the World Cup in South Africa.

"My wish is to be able to play the World Cup in Qatar and afterwards one must realise that the time has come," the former Ajax and Liverpool forward said.

"First by age and then by the young people who come after, so that they have the possibility. When the time comes I will make the appropriate decision, although assuming that costs a player a lot, but I have been working on it for a long time."

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