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 the 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 II of this series: Group B – Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar.
MISSED PART l OF THIS SERIES? READ ABOUT GROUP A’S SURPRISES HERE
Argentina / Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint Germain)
For Argentina, the only thing that counts in this Copa América is the trophy. Soccer god Messi is approaching his last years as player and to end the ‘Maradona vs. Messi’-debate the FC Barcelona player needs to win with the Argentine squad. Messi has had a tremendous year with FC Barcelona on a personal level, but the dramatic 4-0 victory on Anfield Road by Liverpool and later the lost Cup final against Valencia has made Messi hungrier than ever for success this tournament. But fans are starting to look further. They look at what will come after the Messi-era in their national team.
There are quite some names in Argentine soccer that could be listed here. First of all, making the people forget about Leo is nearly impossible, but if there’s one player who can definitely steal the spotlight for the years to come in Argentina, it is 24-year-old Leandro Paredes. Just a teenager, Paredes left Argentine’s Boca Juniors to play in the Italian Serie A for Chievo Verona and AS Roma, but it wasn’t until he joined Zenit St. Petersburg that he really started to convince fans in his home country of his abilities. Paris Saint Germain bought him last year and looking at his competition, Paredes played a good season, obtaining the title in the French league. Paredes will be eager to show the same qualities on the upcoming Copa América 2019.
Watch this goal from Paredes against Torino when playing for AS Roma
Colombia / Duvón Zapata (Atalanta Bergamo)
Colombia saw José Pékerman, the coach who gave Colombia its pride back in 2014 and 2018 after three consecutive absences on the World Cup stage, leave after the team reached the round of 16 at the World Cup in Russia. The team still has some spectacular players, with James Rodríguez seeking revenge after quite a disappointing season at Bayern Munich, Radamel Falcao looking to draw attention of club scouts after a horrible season at Monaco and with Davinson Sánchez, one of the pillars of the Tottenham squad that reached the Champions League final.
Another Colombian player with an historic season is Duvón Zapata, who became top scorer for Atalanta Bergamo with 37 goals. The Italian team managed to reach the 3rd position in the Seria A – before AC Milan, Inter Milan, AS Roma and Lazio Roma – thus qualifying for next year’s Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. Although Zapata with his 28 years is not the youngest, like most players on this Chile Today list, he is certainly on his best this season and hopes to crown an already perfect year with a trophy of Copa América 2019.
Watch all goals from Zapata for Atalanta this season here:
Paraguay / Miguel Almirón (Newcaste United)
On a playing field with teams such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay it is hard to be the best. Nevertheless, there is no team that likes to play Paraguay. They’re tough, they play with their corazón and like the Germans, they will keep going until the final whistle blows. Whoever thinks that Group B is already decided, with Colombia and Argentina as frontrunners, could be wrong: Paraguay is a team that should never be underestimated. No big players, but an inspirational team spirit.
If there is one player who can bring Paraguay the creativity it often bares, it is 23-year-old Miguel Almirón, one of the few players with experience in a top competition. As midfielder for Newcastle United, Almirón knows the demands at the highest level of professional soccer and it is exactly that experience that can make the difference in decisive matches for Paraguay. Newcastle United broke a record when it bought the Paraguayan in January from Atalanta United for US$26.5 million but early in the second half of the season, a hamstring injury had the midfielder out. To give this season a decent ending, Almirón is set on showing his best during Copa América 2019.
Watch this stunning hattrick Almirón scored when playing in the U.S. for Atalanta United:
Qatar / Ali Almoez (Al-Duhail)
Qatar is looking these last years to be a more serious soccer country on an international level. Various Qatari own soccer clubs – Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City – or sponsor teams like Arsenal. The 2022 World Cup will take place in Qatar and clearly illustrates that in modern day soccer, matches go where the money is. But how do you develop a national team if you have no history or tradition in soccer? By ´buying´ players from other countries.
Ali Almoez is a 22-year-old forward who, like so many other Qatari soccer players, was not born in the country he is playing for. During the last Asia Cup, the presence of Almoez was the reason for a dispute between the Emirates soccer association (UAE FA) and the national ethics commission, as Almoez was not Qatar-born, and had not lived long enough in the country to get a permit to play, according to FIFA rules. The appeal was later dismissed. Almoez comes from Sudan and is one of the biggest promises in the Qatari division. Playing for Al-Duhail, Almoez is fast and tall with a nose for goal. Despite all the ambition from the Emirate country, expectations are not high when it comes to Qatar. The country just doesn’t have that soccer culture that produces young talent. But Ali Almoez, more African than Qatari, is an exception to that rule.
Almoez scored a stunner in the Asia Cup final against the other Copa América invitee, Japan:
In Part III of this series, we take a look at Group C: Chile, Uruguay, Japan and Ecuador.
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.