Copa America 2021 Preview: Group A (Argentina eyes elusive title)

Copa America 2021 Preview: Group A (Argentina eyes elusive title)

International Soccer

Copa America 2021 Preview: Group A (Argentina eyes elusive title)

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The clock is ticking for Lionel Messi to win a trophy at the senior level with Argentina, but the world superstar will get another chance this summer.

Not with the backdrop that was initially expected, though.

Messi and Argentina headline Group A at the 2021 Copa America, which was set to be played in part in their backyards before COVID-19 concerns in the country forced a late switch. Now the CONMEBOL tournament will be held in the land of rival Brazil for the second consecutive time, but that is not at all changing La Albiceleste‘s goal of ending a frustrating 28-year run without an international trophy.

Getting through the newly-revamped group stage of the competition will, of course, be the first objective, and in Argentina’s way is fierce foe Chile, a stacked and balanced Uruguay, always-gritty Paraguay, and an improving Bolivia.

Here is a closer look at Group A in the 2021 Copa America, including the schedule of matches, the stars to keep an eye on, and the players poised for breakout tournaments:


GROUP A

Schedule (All times Eastern)

June 14- Argentina vs. Chile (FS1, TUDN), 5 p.m.

June 14- Paraguay vs. Bolivia (FS1, TUDN), 8 p.m.

June 18- Chile vs. Bolivia (FS1, TUDN), 5 p.m.

June 18- Argentina vs. Uruguay (FS2, TUDN), 8 p.m.

June 21- Uruguay vs. Chile (FS1), 5 p.m.

June 21- Argentina vs. Paraguay (FS1), 8 p.m.

June 24- Bolivia vs. Uruguay (FS1), 5 p.m.

June 24- Chile vs. Paraguay (FS1), 8 p.m.

June 28- Uruguay vs. Paraguay (FS2), 8 p.m.

June 28- Bolivia vs. Argentina (FOX), 8 p.m.


ARGENTINA


HEAD COACH

Lionel Scaloni

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul

NAME TO LEARN

Nicolas Gonzalez. The versatile Stuttgart speedster has shown plenty of his good qualities in his first five caps, and could be one of the breakout stars of this tournament. Gonzalez, 23, has become a starting winger for Argentina as of late due to his dynamic play, skill, and work rate, so there should be ample opportunity for him to shine.

ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Franco Armani (River Plata), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Agustin Marchesin (Porto), Juan Musso (Udinese)

Defenders: Gonzalo Montiel (River Plate), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina), Marcos Acuña (Sevilla), Lisandro Martinez (Ajax), Cristian Romero (Atalanta), Nahuel Molina Lucero (Udinese)

Midfielders: Leandro Paredes (PSG), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Nicolas Gonzalez (VfB Stuttgart), Angel Di María (PSG), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Domínguez (Bologna)

Forwards: Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona), Lautaro Martínez (Inter Milan), Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Sergio Aguero (FC Barcelona)

OUTLOOK

Argentina is almost always a candidate to contend for the crown, and Lionel Scaloni’s team is no exception. The talent and experience is there, especially in the midfield and attack, and the magical Lionel Messi is always capable of conjuring up a moment of brilliance on his own. The biggest questions lie in defense, as they normally tend to for La Albiceleste, but if those get answered then Argentina stands a good chance of winning its first Copa America since 1993.


BOLIVIA


HEAD COACH

Cesar Farias

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Marcelo Martins, Diego Bejarano, Carlos Lampe, Leonel Justiniano

NAME TO LEARN

Henry Vaca. It is not all that often that an up-and-coming player with only a handful of caps to his name dons the No. 10 for his nation, but that shows just how much talent and potential the 23-year-old Vaca has. The starting right-sided attacker is one of if not Bolivia’s most promising talent right now, boasting quick feet, good 1-on-1 skills, and creative ideas in the final third.

ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Carlos Lampe (Always Ready), Javier Rojas (Bolivar), Ruben Cordano (Bolivar)

Defenders: Diego Bejarano (Bolivar), Oscar Ribera (Blooming), Luis Haquin (Deportes Melipilla), Jairo Quinteros (Bolivar), Luis Barbosa (Aurora), Adrian Jusino (Athlitiki Enosi Larissas), Jose Sagredo (The Strongest), Enrique Flores (Always Ready)

Midfielders: Ramiro Vaca (The Strongest), Erwin Saavedra (Bolivar), Diego Wayar (The Strongest), Leonel Justiniano (Bolivar), Erwin Junior Sanchez (Blooming), Boris Cespedes (Servette FC), Juan Carlos Arce (Always Ready), Roberto Fernandez (Bolivar), Moises Villarroel (Wilstermann), Danny Bejarano (Lamia FC)

Forwards: Jeyson Chura (The Strongest), Henry Vaca (Oriente Petrolero), Marcelo Martins (Cruzeiro), Luis Ramallo (Always Ready), Jaume Cuellar (SPAL), Gilbert Alvarez (Wilstermann)

OUTLOOK

Bolivia raised its level in the just-concluded round of World Cup Qualifiers, and the hope is that that form can carry over despite a COVID-19 outbreak impacting the squad. Red-hot striker Marcelo Martins will have to lead the way with more of the types of goals he has been scoring in recent games, but others like Henry Vaca will have to step up as well for Cesar Farias’ side. La Verde is unlikely to make a deep run, but getting out of this group would be a good step forward for the underdogs.


CHILE


HEAD COACH

Martin Lasarte

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas, Charles Aranguiz, Claudio Bravo

NAME TO LEARN

Francisco Sierralta. A towering 6-foot-4 centerback coming off a solid first year with Watford in England’s second division, Sierralta is poised for some minutes here. Sierralta, 24, is unlikely to be an every-game starter for Chile, but with matches coming quick and fast he should have a few opportunities to showcase his qualities and further establish himself with the squad.

ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Betis), Gabriel Arias (Racing), Gabriel Castellon (Huachipato FC)

Defenders: Daniel Gonzalez (Santiago Wanderers), Mauricio Isla (Flamengo), Guillermo Maripan (Monaco), Gary Medel (Bologna), Eugenio Mena (Racing), Enzo Roco (Fatih Karagumruk), Francisco Sierralta (Watford), Sebastian Vegas (Monterrey)

Midfielders: Tomas Alarcon (O’Higgins), Charles Aranguiz (Bayer Leverkusen), Pablo Aranguiz (Universidad de Chile) Claudio Baeza (Toluca), Pablo Galdames (Velez Sarsfield), Marcelino Nuñez (Universidad Católica), Carlos Palacios (Internacional), Cesar Pinares (Gremio), Erick Pulgar (Fiorentina), Arturo Vidal (Inter Milan)

Forwards: Luciano Arriagada (Colo Colo), Ben Brereton (Blackburn), Clemente Montes (Universidad Catolica), Jean Meneses (Leon), Felipe Mora (Portland Timbers), Alexis Sanchez (Inter Milan), Eduardo Vargas (Atletico Mineiro)

OUTLOOK

Chile is going through a bit of a generational change, and star attacker Alexis Sanchez has been ruled out of the group stage through an injury. Nonetheless, several key veterans like Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas remain, and they will once again lead the way. Reaching the Round of 16 will be expected of La Roja, but just how far it goes will depend a good bit on whether fairly new manager Martin Lasarte can get a group in transition to quickly buy into his ideas and way of doing things.


PARAGUAY


HEAD COACH

Eduardo Berizzo

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Miguel Almiron, Angel Romero, Oscar Romero, Gustavo Gomez

NAME TO LEARN

Robert Rojas. The versatile player figures to line up at right back for Paraguay, giving the team another tough and aggressive defender. The 25-year-old Rojas is not the best at getting forward from the fullback spot, but his no-nonsense style more than helps make up for that in addition to him being solid in the air.

ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Antony Silva (Puebla), Alfredo Aguilar (Olimpia), Gerardo Ortiz (Once Caldas)

Defenders: Robert Rojas (River Plate), David Martinez (River Plate), Omar Alderete (Hertha Berlin), Fabian Balbuena (West Ham), Gustavo Gomez (Palmeiras), Junior Alonso (Atletico Mineiro), Alberto Espinola (Cerro Porteño), Santiago Arzamendia (Cerro Porteño)

Midfielders: Richard Sanchez (America), Gaston Gimenez (Chicago Fire), Andres Cubas (Nimes Olympique), Oscar Romero (San Lorenzo), Robert Piris Da Motta (Genclerbirligi), Alejandro Romero Gamarra (Al-Taawon FC), Angel Cardozo Lucena (Cerro Porteño), Mathias Villasanti (Cerro Porteño), Braian Ojeda (Olimpia), Jorge Morel (Guarani)

Forwards: Angel Romero (San Lorenzo), Carlos González (Tigres), Braian Samudio (Rizespor), Miguel Almiron (Newcastle United), Julio Enciso (Libertad), Antonio Bareiro (Libertad)

OUTLOOK

Paraguay is another team in between generations and there is an overall lack of experience in this bunch, but there is still enough talent within the squad to make it the quarterfinals. La Albirroja is unlikely to overwhelm anyone in the attack even with Angelo Romero and Miguel Almiron on the roster, but the team’s historic formula of dogged defending, organized play, good set pieces, and opportunistic finishing may again prove enough for Eduardo Berizzo’s men to turn some heads.


URUGUAY


HEAD COACH

Oscar Tabarez

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Rodrigo Betancur, Federico Valverde

NAME TO LEARN

Matias Viña. A natural left back, Viña has also been used by Uruguay as a winger. That versatility should help the 23-year-old Palmeiras player earn a healthy share of minutes, which he can use to show his explosive dribbling runs, penchant for crossing, and cultured left foot.

ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Campaña (Al Batin), Sergio Rochet (Nacional)

Defenders: Diego Godin (Cagliari), Jose Maria Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting CP), Ronald Araujo (FC Barcelona), Martin Caceres (Fiorentina), Matias Viña (Palmeiras), Giovanni Gonzalez (Peñarol), Camilo Candido (Nacional)

Midfielders: Lucas Torreira (Atletico Madrid), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Fernando Gorriaran (Santos Laguna), Nahitan Nandez (Cagliari), Nicolas De la Cruz (River Plate)

Forwards: Brian Rodriguez (Almeria), Jonathan Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Giorgian de Arrascaeta (Flamengo), Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid), Edinson Cavani (Manchester United), Maximiliano Gomez (Valencia), Facundo Torres (Peñarol), Brian Ocampo (Nacional)

OUTLOOK

Uruguay might not be one of the top two favorites, but the team is littered with quality across all its lines. The lethal forward duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani is back, the midfield has an embarrassment of riches with Lucas Torreira and Matias Vecino among those available, and the defense is led by Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez, and Fernando Muslera. La Celeste is skilled and deep, and that combined with its established style under long-time head coach Oscar Tabarez could see it add to its record 15 continental titles.

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