Top Best Young Football Players at the Copa America - The Rising Stars
Top Best Young Football Players at the Copa America - The Rising Stars

The delayed Copa America starts on Sunday, June 13 and there's plenty of talent on show among the 10 teams involved.

In the past, dozens of fine young South Americans have used the tournament not only to gain glory for their nation but to launch themselves towards the top of the world game.

Adriano Imperador ruled in 2004, Lionel Messi shone in 2007, and Neymar and Alexis Sanchez weaved their magic in 2011.

Here, we’ve picked out the top best of the young players who could make an impression in 2021 before going on to bigger and better things.

They are The Rising Stars in South America.

Angelo Preciado (23, RB, Ecuador and Genk)

The right-back often plays further up the pitch at club level and offers a lot going forward. He made his debut back in 2018 but was called up again for the recent World Cup qualifiers and played the full 90 minutes against Brazil.

He has spent the last few months settling into European football following a January move to Belgium club Genk from Ecuadorian side Independiente. Pacey and always happy to join the attack, Preciado has a good positional sense and is a fine crosser of the ball.

Ben Brereton (22, Chile Blackburn striker)

When you look at Copa America squad lists, you don’t really expect to see any lads called Ben from Stoke-on-Trent. But here we are.

Despite being born in Staffordshire, 22-year-old Blackburn striker Brereton qualifies to play for Chile through his mother. He’s only been to Chile once, when he was still a baby, but Brereton is unsurprisingly pretty pleased to get a chance to play at a major tournament with the nation of his mother’s birth.

“It’s great and it’s a real privilege, particularly for my mum’s side of the family,” Brereton told the Rovers website. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play internationally, so it will be a great honour and I’m looking forward to it.”

“I’ve known for quite a while that they [Chile] were looking at me, but I just kept my head down and wanted to do well for Blackburn Rovers.

“Then just recently they’ve been in touch with me and my family, to let us know, and we’ve made the decision that we want to do it and give it my best shot. It’s a real honour, Chile are a great team to be a part of and my mum and my granddad, and all the family, are very proud.

“It’s really special for them. They were all in tears when they found out. It’s really exciting and they’re really proud of me and I can’t wait to play.”

The 22-year-old attacker got seven goals and four assists in the Championship last term and will be looking to push onto the next level playing alongside La Roja’s stalwarts like Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez.

Brereton’s not the only talent to watch in the Chile squad, either. Alongside him will be Carlos Palacios, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder currently playing for Internacional in Brazil. His dribbling skills, intelligence and passing will see him become a fine player.

Carlos Cuesta (22, CB, Colombia and Genk)

Cuesta made himself a regular at club level in Colombia aged 17, playing for Atletico Nacional and has already got two seasons of European football under his belt with Genk, where he won the Belgian Cup this year.

Still aged just 22, the Colombian looks like he could develop into a beautifully assured defender.

He is exceptional in one-on-one situations and comfortable in the air despite not being the tallest, as his timing and anticipation are first rate. Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez are Colombia’s first-choice central defensive partnership at the moment, but if cover is needed, the uncapped Cuesta will not disappoint.

While Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez look to be the first-choice pairing in the heart of the Colombia defence, Cuesta could make his senior debut as a backup at the Copa America. The young defender has done well in the Belgian league over the past two seasons and, although his disciplinary record can improve (he was sent off three times in the league this season), he's shown improvement in his positioning.

Brian Ocampo (21, FW, Uruguay and Nacional)

Full of energy and youthful optimism, the right-footed winger is never worried about taking on a defender. His high-risk style of football -- full of mazy dribbles, flicks and backheels -- is great fun to watch, though his trickery doesn't always come off. Ocampo was called up to the Uruguay squad on the back of a good run of form for his club and his ball-progression skills, mixed with sky-high confidence and a great long-range shot, make him a potential wildcard coming off the bench

Cristian Romero (23, CB, Argentina and Atalanta)

The centre-back made his Argentina debut in the World Cup qualifier against Chile on June 3 following an excellent season for Atalanta, where he usually lined up in the middle of their back three as the club finished third in Serie A.

Top Best Young Football Players at the Copa America - The Rising Stars
Cristian Romero has been linked with a move to Man United.

Recently linked with Manchester United, Romero's determination and highly focused defending sees him rarely hesitate when the opportunity to win the ball early arises. Robust and comfortable on the ball too, his fine early goal for Argentina against Colombia on June 8 was an example of his aerial strength.

Darwin Nunez (21, Uruguay, Benfica Club)

Darwin Nunez assisted nine assists for Benfica in Premeira Liga this season

The 21-year-old attacker has impressed this season for his club, on both domestic and European stages. Nunez’s throwback approach to the number 9 role has brought him to the attention of top European clubs. The Uruguayan will hope to impress at Copa America by playing beside Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani to ensure that his merit rises even further.

Nunez has had 21 goal involvements for Benfica this season. He will look to add another dimension to what is already a strong Uruguay side.

Emerson (22, RB, Brazil and Barcelona)

Signed from Atletico Mineiro in joint deal between Real Betis and Barcelona two years ago, with each club paying €6m towards his rights and Betis getting him on loan, Barcelona activated their €9m option to take him back to the Camp Nou permanently this summer.

One of the most well-known players on this list, last month Emerson completed a transfer from Real Betis to Barcelona as the last leg of a weird deal that saw Betis and Barca sign half an Emerson each in the summer of 2019.

He spent two seasons on the green half of Seville honing his skills and looks to have developed nicely. He’s tall and quick – a bit like a Brazilian Kyle Walker – and combines those physical attributes with delightful ball striking technique.

After Dani Alves pulled out of the squad for the World Cup qualifiers that preceded the Copa, Emerson was called up in his place. With unconvincing ex-Manchester City man Danilo the other right-back option, he may well get a chance to shine at some point during the tournament.

Top Best Young Football Players at the Copa America - The Rising Stars
Emerson has a chance to impress this summer. Ricardo Nogueira/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

A naturally fit and athletic defender, he's also good in the air for a full-back. Emerson is stronger defensively than Sergino Dest, but the United States international has a better attacking side to his game, so it remains to be seen if they will fight for a starting spot at Camp Nou or whether Emerson will move on to another top club (with Arsenal and Inter Milan among those to have shown an interest).

Facundo Torres (21, AM, Uruguay and Penarol)

Another stand-out from the Uruguay youth teams, Torres was rewarded by national coach Oscar Tabarez for a fine season at Penarol with his first senior cap (came off the bench vs. Paraguay) followed by a full debut a few days later (vs. Venezuela). The left-footed attacking midfielder, who can play anywhere across the front line, is a constant threat with his incisive movement, change of pace and ability to take on defenders. He always draws a lot of fouls and is still inclined to try and go it alone too often, but his exceptional natural talent has triggered keen interest from clubs across Europe after Manchester United landed winger Facundo Pellistri from the same club in 2020.

Federico Valverde

It is often easy to forget that Fede Valverde is only 22-year-old. The Uruguayan midfielder has proven himself to be a crucial cog in the Real Madrid machine with his calm and composed midfield performances. The Copa America 2021 will be the youngster’s first major tournament with La Celeste where he will likely form a midfield partnership with another youngster, Rodrigo Bentancur.

Julio Enciso (17, Colombia)

At 17, Enciso is the youngest of our picks here – and by a fair distance. The Libertad attacking midfielder burst onto the scene in 2019, making his senior debut aged just 15. Since then, he has gone about establishing himself as the player to watch in Paraguayan football.

In 2020, he debuted in the Copa Libertadores, coming on as a half-time substitute in the round of 16 as Libertad played Bolivians Jorge Wilstermann. He didn’t take long to make an impact, scoring just 35 seconds after setting foot on the pitch.

This year, he has gone from strength to strength, scoring four in nine games in the league, including one in the derby against Cerro Porteno, and another in the Libertadores, this time against Atletico Nacional of Colombia.

Enciso is quick, he’s clever, he’s very slippery, and he’s not afraid to have a crack at goal. Basically, everything you want from a South American prospect. He’s still uncapped so don’t expect him to start for Paraguay – but he could have an impact from the bench if given the chance, just like he has for Libertad.

Lautaro Martinez (Argentina)

Lautrao Martinez has performed admirably in the 2020-21 season

A Serie A title winner with Inter Milan in the previous season, Lautaro Martinez is quickly developing into a household name. The Argentinian attacker formed a lethal partnership with Romelu Lukaku at Inter and will be looking to carry his form into the Copa America alongside the likes of Leo Messi.

With 19 goals and 11 assists in the previous league campaign, Martinez could prove to be crucial to Argentina’s hopes of finally bringing home a major international trophy.

Leonardo Campana

A big, strong, athletic presence at the top end of the pitch, Campan stood out as part of a fine crop of Ecuadorian youngsters at the South American Under-20 Championships in 2019.

Jorge Mendes’ Wolves then snapped him up from his club side Barcelona (not that one, the Ecuadorian one) before loaning him out for the 2020-21 season to Jorge Mendes’ Famalicao.

He only played nine league games in Portugal, scoring twice, but Ecuador have kept faith and called him up for the Copa. One to watch, especially for Wolves fans.

Renan Lodi

Renan Lodi did not play much for Atletico Madrid this season but scored a crucial goal

This season has proven that Renan Lodi is a star waiting to burst into life. He kept Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid alive in the La Liga title race with a vital goal against Osasuna. His goal proved to be crucial in La Rojablancos’ title charge. While the left-back has spent most of this season on the bench, the Brazilian has shown his quality whenever he was called upon.

The Copa America could prove to be the perfect opportunity to stake his claim for a more permanent spot in the Atletico side.

Ronald Araujo

Araujo has already made name for himself this season, starting 22 games in all competitions for Barcelona and helping them to the Copa del Rey.

As Sebastian Coates and Diego Godin continue to get less young and even less quick than they already were, he may also be able to establish himself as starting option for the Celeste.

Araujo’s all-round game is very well developed for a 22-year-old and there is some talk that Everton were hoping to tempt him away from the Camp Nou, but Barcelona will surely not want him to leave this summer as they attempt to rebuild.

Ronald Koeman was clearly impressed with how his namesake adapted to the pressures of playing for the Barca first-team this year.

“Ronald has had a very good season,” Koeman said in February. “He is young and has learned a lot, he has shown his quality and physique. It is important to have strong and fast people. He must improve his game with the ball but defensively he contributes many things.”

Vinicius Jr (20, Brazil, Real Madrid)

The Brazilian attacker has shown a lot of promise at Real Madrid but could be just about ready to burst. The 20-year-old will be hoping to take the baton from the likes of Neymar and will see Copa America in 2021 as the perfect opportunity to do so.

He will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself throughout the tournament and will be hoping to impress his coaches.

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