Friday, 3 June 2016

Copa America Centenario: The top 10 stars to watch

Every major tournament brings the chance for players to put on a star show for their country, andCopa America Centenario has plenty of candidates capable of making headlines toward a deep run.

We've spotlighted 10 guys set to take the stage with roles that could – or even should – allow them to spark their teams into the knockout bracket, where any magical thing can happen.
#10 – Salomon Rondon, Venezuela

Fresh off a solid debut season with West Bromwich Albion, the striker is after his Copa breakout. Rondon's has hit twice in nine career tourney tilts, but did fire the lone goal winner against Colombia in last year's tournament opener. Venezuela could use his best in the Group C dogfight.
#9 – Paolo Guerrero, Peru

With Jefferson Farfan and Claudio Pizarro omitted from the final roster, Peru's hopes of advancement rest on the streaky Flamengo striker. In last year's Copa, he bagged a hat trick in their quarterfinal win and scored again as they took the third-place match. It's becoming a thing; in 2011, he hit five times in another bronze finish for Peru.
#8 – Edwin Cardona, Colombia

Stateside observers may have had a sneak preview of Cardona's wares in the Liga MX final, where he starred in a losing effort for Rayados. Buoyed by a stellar first season in Mexico, Cardona seems primed to step up for his country, setting up camp above the opposition area to slip lead passes into every channel and fire the occasional bomb curler from behind a screen.
#7 - Clint Dempsey, United States

The Seattle Sounder continues to score for the USMNT, and is now up to 19 goals from 38 career major tournament games. With Jozy Altidore out, the Nats will look first to "Deuce" to provide offense in his pirating style. It will be Dempsey's first Copa America.
#6 – Andre Blake, Jamaica

It’s probably no coincidence that the Philadelphia Union’s rise in MLS has occurred in the same season that Blake was handed the No. 1 job. And in the first three months of the 2016 campaign, Blake has shown why he’s earned comparisons with legendary ‘keeper Oliver Kahn, courtesy of his national team coach. And with Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas missing the tournament due to injury, Blake has a great opportunity to claim the goalkeeper spotlight all for himself if Jamaica can somehow replicate their Gold Cup run from last year.
#5 – Alexis Sanchez, Chile

It was a bit of a trying season for the Arsenal ace, but he racked up seven goals in their last 10 games to finish with 17. With one Copa America title already under his belt, Sanchez has the speed and shiftiness to run wild at any major tournament.
#4 – Javier Hernandez, Mexico

The ghost over your shoulder is back to his best. Fresh off netting a career-high 26 goals with Bayer Leverkusen, Chicharito is finally getting his first crack at a Copa America. Hernandez, who's netted 13 times in 17 major tourney matches, needs four goals to become the all-time leading El Tri scorer.
#3 – Hulk, Brazil

With Diego Costa, Roberto Firmino and Neymar all missing, Brazil may attempt to Hulk-smash their way to the final. Able to come at you from any angle on the front line, the 29-year-old scored 23 goals for Zenit St. Petersburg this season. He is also properly motivated, eager to wipe away memories of a scoreless World Cup 2014 with a memorable first Copa appearance.
#2 – Luis Suarez, Uruguay

When you lead Barcelona with 59 goals, can score every way imaginable and occasionally sprinkle in some crazy behavior, no introduction is needed. What Suarez does require, however, is some time. He'll travel to Copa carrying a hamstring injury and try to be ready for the knockouts. We shall see if Uruguay can buy him that time by escaping the group stage.
#1 – Lionel Messi, Argentina

After piling up a "mere" 41 goals for Barcelona, the Argentina star is back to the chase for his first international winner's medal since the 2008 Olympics. Messi, who has but one goal in his last 11 Copa America matches, has twice finished as a runner-up at this tournament and took home silver from World Cup 2014. How long can "close but no cigar" last for the diminutive dazzler?

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