Messi was off-color at the World Cup, yet was still named player of the tournament. Despite his displays in Brazil and all his successes with Barcelona, Messi still has something to prove to his public at home. Argentina haven’t won silverware since 1993, and they are desperate to bring that drought to an end. The feeling with Messi is that he will never quite match up to Diego Maradona to an Argentinian audience until he helps the national team win a trophy.
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There was a spell last year after Neymar had fractured two vertebrae in the World Cup quarter-final against Colombia when he seemed the sanest man in Brazil. While everybody else was gripped by hysteria -- culminating in the 7-1 defeat to Germany -- he gave a very calm video message to the nation. With him back in the side and in fine form, can he help Brazil put the shame of Belo Horizonte and that semi-final defeat behind it?
AFP/Getty ImagesADRIAN DENNIS
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Sanchez's versatility makes him a key component for the hosts. In the 3-4-1-2 formation favored by Jorge Sampaoli, Sanchez has a vital role, playing as a second striker who drifts out to the left. If it’s a 4-3-3 instead, he may start wide and cut infield. Either way, he's a threat. He’s had a superb first season at Arsenal, but the fear must be whether he can sustain his remarkable energy into the Copa America, particularly with the added pressured that comes with being the host nation. Given the way he was pushed out of Barcelona, he might have a point to prove to Messi and Neymar.
AFP/Getty ImagesMARTIN BERNETTI
Radamel Falcao (Colombia)
In qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Falcao was the key figure for Colombia, scoring nine goals. Then in January 2014, he damaged knee ligaments. He hasn't been the same since. Falcao has scored five in his last five for the national team, but with Teo Gutierrez, Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martinez all in the squad, is he still worth his place in the starting line-up? The fact that Jose Pekerman has named him as captain suggests he thinks he is.
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Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)
With Luis Suarez suspended and Diego Forlan retired, Cavani is the only component remaining from the forward line that won the tournament four years ago. Oscar Tabarez, who took over as coach after the 2006 World Cup, has kept a core of players together for much of his time in charge, but with age catching up with Diego Lugano and Diego Perez, Cavani is left as, by some distance, the highest profile and most experienced player in the squad.
AFP/Getty ImagesMIGUEL ROJO
Paulo Da Silva (Paraguay)
The 35-year-old defender is a tough, experienced campaigner who was central to Paraguay’s progress to the Copa America semi-final four years ago, when it kept three clean sheets in five games. With his corrugated forehead and hunched gait, he always looks exhausted, but his determination and reading of the game mean he shouldn’t be underestimated.
AFP/Getty ImagesNORBERTO DUARTE
Christian Noboa (Ecuador)
In the absence of Antonio Valencia, Noboa is the senior player, a calm and composed holding midfielder who helped Rubin Kazan to the Russian title in 2008 and 2009. He is more than capable of putting his foot into challenges, but he also has a fine range of passing – and will be looking to sweep long diagonals out to the left for Jefferson Montero. He is now playing in Greece with PAOK.
AFP/Getty ImagesGABRIEL BOUYS
Salomon Rondon (Venezuela)
The 25-year-old scored five goals in World Cup qualifying but he has slightly lost his radar since amid struggles for game time at Zenit St. Petersburg. He is quick and rangy. If he rediscovers his confidence in front of goal, then he should be ideally suited to Venezuela’s counterattacking approach.
Wes Morgan (Jamaica)
The Leicester City captain spent the first half of the Premier League season searching for any stroke of fortune. There were own goals, a red card, and harsh penalties given against him. Fortunately, the poor luck didn't last. As the Fixes recovered, the robust center back grew in stature. He now takes his place alongside Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa at the centre of a Jamaican defence that is sure to be severely tested.
AFP/Getty ImagesJIJI PRESS
Romel Quinonez (Bolivia)
The 22-year-old isn’t tall for a goalkeeper, but he was a key figure in Bolivar’s progress to the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores last season. He made a number of fine reflex saves and projected a confidence that seemed to inspire his defenders. His level has perhaps slipped back a little recently, but he is still young and this is the perfect stage to remind suitors of his potential.