Some you might know. Others might be completely new to you. But these players – mostly young and emerging – have everything to be the surprise of their country during Copa América 2019.
It would be easy to make a list with the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez and James Rodríguez. These players have earned their stripes in international soccer and have won the biggest trophies at clubs such as FC Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid. But these players are aging.
In South American countries, where soccer is as holy as the bible, more fans are looking to the lesser known and promising stars. And what offers a better stage to shine than the Copa América – the South American continental Cup? The following players are likely to astonish you in the upcoming months and might even have their name printed in the history books. In Part I of this series: Group A – Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru.
Brazil / David Neres (AFC Ajax)
Of all squads competing for the Copa América, Brazil has without a doubt the strongest. As usual, the Brazilians connect strength to technique, experience to talent and a large majority of the players play for the largest clubs in the world. Neymar, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva (all Paris Saint Germain), Artur, Coutinho (FC Barcelona), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Firminio, Alisson (Liverpool), Willian (Chelsea) are top-class players and need no further introduction.
But even the Brazilian squad has room for upcoming talent. One of the biggest stars of the Brazilian future is David Neres, who can look back on a very successful season with his club, Ajax Amsterdam. Ajax won the Dutch double and conquered Europe with magical football. They found their dramatic Waterloo in the last seconds of the semi-finals against Tottenham, when Lucas Moura (another Brazilian star) scored the 2-3. But it is for a reason the Dutch fans start singing “Neres, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” to the melody of “To Brazil” from the Venga Boys when Neres, a typical winger and fast as lightning, touches the ball. Neres is samba as we know it from Brazil.
Watch Neres´ goal for Ajax against Juventus in the quarter-finals of the Champions League:
Bolivia / Marcelo Martins (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright)
Bolivia is the underdog in Group A, with nearly all players playing in the national competition. The country, famous for the highest stadium in the world in La Paz at 3,637m, must have it from their teamwork and their strategy. The team’s Copa América slogan “United for our Dream” (Unido por nuestro sueño) says it all: if Bolivia wants to pass at least this difficult Group A, they need to work together.
But there are players who might surprise you in the upcoming tournament. Playing in China, Marcelo Martins is one of the few players with experience abroad – he played a season in the Premier League for Wigan Athletic and a season in the Bundesliga for Werder Bremen, both seasons without goals. Aged 31, the striker is likely to play his last Copa América and Martins is the hope of Bolivians, because when quality lacks, it is experience and leadership that Bolivia will need desperately.
Watch how Marcelo Martins scored twice at his debut for Shijiazhuang Ever Bright
Venezuela / Josef Martinez (Atalanta United)
For Venezuela, the Copa América 2019 is much more than just a tournament. For millions of Venezuelans, wherever they are living, soccer will be a form of escape in the upcoming months. The crisis in Venezuela seems to be never-ending and even worsening, and nothing can distract from hunger, pain and sorrow than a soccer victory. It is likely that a populist-nationalist leader like Nicolás Maduro will exploit a possible success of the squad for personal gain, but only for the people of Venezuela, who have been through so much suffering, you’d wish them some games full of joy.
If there is one player likely to bring Venezuelans that joy, it is Josef Martinez. Martinez developed himself into a goal-scoring machine, crowning himself as top scorer in last year’s Major League Soccer, with 31 goals in 34 matches. Playing for Atalanta United, this season Martinez and his squad, led by Dutch coach Frank de Boer, have been off to an unlucky start with an early elimination in the CONCACAF Champions League, so Martinez will be desperate to show himself this Copa América 2019, not only to bring Venezuela the happiness it needs but also to play himself into the spotlights of all the European scouts eagerly watching to pick up some Latin talent.
Josef Martinez is staying in Atlanta 💪— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) January 17, 2019
In just two MLS seasons Josef Martinez has become an MLS Cup Champ, the MLS MVP, and set the MLS Single-Season Goals Record.
Looking forward to 5 more 🔥 pic.twitter.com/3oh1IPe2Ek
Peru / Renato Tapia (Willem II)
Never excellent like Argentina, Brazil or even Chile in the last editions of the Copa América, Peru has been another one of those countries where talent doesn’t fall out of the sky. Players like Pizarro, Guerrero and Farfán are veterans nowadays and Peru needs new, young players who can assure that the country keeps obtaining the title of best-of-the-rest when it comes to qualification for tournaments like the World Cup.
With his 23 years, Renato Tapia has played an impressive number of matches for Peru. He was present at the last World Cup in Russia and played in the Copa América Centenario in the United States. Tapia started his career in the Netherlands, at FC Twente as midfielder, but after Feyenoord Rotterdam bought him, he was turned into a defender. Whether it was the switch to his new position or the pressure from a history-rich club such as Feyenoord: Tapia couldn’t show his full potential and was transferred to another Dutch club: Willem II from Tilburg. This year, and partly thanks to very solid playing by Tapia, the small club managed to reach the Cup final, where it was defeated by Ajax Amsterdam. Tapia will surely seek his revenge this Copa América 2019.
Watch Tapia’s international performance against Croatia on the World Cup 2018
In Part II of this series, we take a look at Group B: Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.