This was supposed to be a summer full of International competitions, including the 2020 Euros and Olympics, both of which are postponed for next year. Among the tournaments that are postponed is the Copa America, which has to be one of the strangest international tournaments. For a start, it doesn’t have a consistent date, as it happened in 2019, 2016, 2015 and 2011. The weirdest part, though, is that the tournament isn’t even limited to South American countries. In 2019, Qatar and Japan were in the group stages, which only consist of 12 teams. In 2016, the USA, Costa Rica, Haiti, Mexico, Jamaica and Panama qualified, and USA finished fourth. Qatar and Australia are set to feature in next year’s tournament.
CONMEBOL, the South American football (or soccer) federation, should keep the Copa America exclusively to South American teams. No other regional tournament allows teams from outside the region, with few exceptions like Israel being allowed at the Euros because they are part of the European federation. Besides, with all these other nations competing, it hides the talent of South American stars. In this article, I will look at the best player from five of COMNEBOL’s ten recognized nations. I will look at the remaining five in part two. This does not include Suriname and Guyana, as they are registered for CONCACAF, the North American soccer federation.
Brazil (Neymar Jr.)
World Ranking: 3
Brazil are currently the third ranked national team in the world, behind Belgium and World Cup-winners France. Brazil was once known as the best team in the world, but have not won the World Cup since 2002 and have experienced some rough moments, including a 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany in 2014. A lot of young talents have not panned out for the team, including Adryan, Oscar and Kerlon. Neymar Jr. is one wonderkid who has lived up to his potential, scoring 105 goals with Barcelona before leaving for PSG for a record fee. He won the French Ligue 1 with PSG this year, which is his fifth title since his move to Europe in the 2013/14 season. Neymar has also played well on the national stage, having scored 61 goals for the Brazilian senior team as of July 7 as well as helping Brazil win the 2019 Copa America.
Uruguay (Luis Suarez)
World Ranking: 5
Uruguayan players are known for Garra Charrua, toughness, aggression and fighting spirit with an emphasis on fighting. Take Fernando Muslera, the Galatasaray goalkeeper, who is back in practice despite suffering a double leg break in June. Or Luis Suarez, who became one of the most hated players ever for a hand ball on the goal line against Ghana to keep Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup. Or Luis Suarez, who became one of the most hated players ever for biting Giorgio Chiellini in the 2014 World Cup. Or Luis Suarez, who became one of the most hated players ever for biting Branislov Ivanovic in 2013. Or Luis Suarez, who became one of the most hated players ever for biting Otman Bakkal in 2010.
OK, I think that’s all the bites.
The point is that Uruguayan players are known for toughness, which is why Uruguay is the 91st biggest country, but with the fifth best soccer team. And like him or not, Dracula … er, Suarez- has played a huge role for his nation. He helped Uruguay reach the World Cup semifinals in 2010, as well as helping them win the Copa America in 2011. He has scored 59 goals for Uruguay, this despite sharing the striker position with Edinson Cavani. The two-striker formation has helped assist-wise, as Suarez has 31 national team assists.
Argentina (Lionel Messi)
World Ranking: 9
Argentina have come the closest of any South American nation in recent memory to winning a World Cup, and have had some truly terrible luck. Argentina made it to the 2014 World Cup final, where they lost 1-0 in extra time in a game that they could have won many times if Gonzalo Higuain wasn’t, well, Gonzalo Higuain. They followed that tournament with a 2015 Copa America final appearance, which they lost on penalty kicks to Chile. They looked destined for it in 2016, winning every game in their group stage, including revenge in a 2-1 win against Chile, and dominated USA and Venezuela in the knockouts to get to the final. Who did they play? Chile. They made it to penalty kicks, and, in a déjà vu moment, lost to Chile on penalty kicks. This was too much for Lionel Messi, who retired from International football.
That didn’t last long, as Messi came out of retirement with the hopes of finally winning the World Cup with Argentina in 2018. The team was doomed from the start, as starting goalkeeper Sergio Romero was injured in May of 2018, ruling him out for the World Cup. Argentina was forced to rely on veterans Willy Caballero and Franco Armani, who both played terribly as Argentina scraped out of the group stage thanks to a lucky win against Nigeria due to a Marcus Rojo header. They had already been embarrassed by Iceland and Croatia, tying Iceland due to Hannes Halldorsson’s unexpected save of Lionel Messi’s penalty kick, and losing to Croatia 3-0 thanks to some Caballero errors. Argentina went home immediately in the knockouts, losing 4-3 to eventual champions France.
International tournaments aside, there is no denying that Lionel Messi is one of the greatest of all time. Six Ballon D’Ors, 700 goals for club and country, and he still has plenty of time left. Well, maybe not internationally.
Colombia (James Rodríguez)
World Ranking: 10
Sadly, it appears that Colombia’s golden generation is coming to an end. David Ospina, Juan Cuadrado, and Radamel Falcao are all over thirty years of age, and with the exception of Davinson Sanchez and Alfredo Morelos, they have yet to incorporate a young exciting player into the squad. James Rodríguez is the last real star of that Colombia team, and aged 28 you already get the feeling his best years are behind him.
Rodríguez has already played in six countries (Colombia, Argentina, Portugal, France, Spain and Germany) but he really left his mark on FC Porto, as he contributed to 73 goals in his three seasons, winning the Portuguese Primeira Liga all three times and the Europa League once. He was sold to ambitious French club AS Monaco in 2013 for 49.5 million USD, as Porto made a transfer profit of 41.41 million. Just one summer later, he was sold to Real Madrid for almost twice what Monaco got him for – but not because of his time at Monaco.
Rodríguez really shined for Colombia at the 2014 World Cup, mainly because of an injury to Radamel Falcao, who also played for Monaco. Rodríguez scored six goals and bagged two assists in five games before being eliminated by hosts Brazil. Two of those goals were against Uruguay, with one of them winning the Puskas Award for that year’s most beautiful goal. He also won the 2014 World Cup Golden Boot as top scorer of the tournament.
Real Madrid were impressed by this and bought him for around 82.5 million USD, and he was at first given ample playing time and shone, contributing to 35 goals his first year in Madrid. Since then, Rodríguez has had far less playing time and was loaned out to Bavarian giants FC Bayern Munich for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons. He played reasonably well, contributing to 21 goals during his time at the club, but Bayern did not make the deal permanent as Real Madrid wanted too much for the Colombian. He has been linked to the likes of Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Everton, Napoli and Manchester United, but for the time being he is the best Colombian player.
Chile (Arturo Vidal)
World Ranking: 17
Another team that has failed to replace a golden generation, Chile have taken a huge tumble from grace. Chile were narrowly eliminated in penalty kicks in the 2014 World Cup, and then won the aforementioned 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas. However, players like Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Claudio Bravo have been aging and on the decline, which sums up the Chilean national team now. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, finishing behind Peru in sixth place on goal differential thanks to a final day 3-0 loss to Brazil. Chile played decently in the 2019 Copa America, but lost 3-0 to Peru in the semifinals and then 2-1 to Argentina in the third-place game.
However, Arturo Vidal, despite being 33, still continues to get a lot of playing time for FC Barcelona, as he did in the past for Juventus and Bayern Munich. Vidal has contributed to ten goals in all competitions for Barcelona, several of those key goals as Barcelona have struggled for points as of late.
So that is part one of our review of each South American nation’s best player. Stay posted for part two, which should be released soon. If you believe there is a better player, or just have any questions for me, please leave a comment. Don’t worry if your comment does not show up, all comments must be approved due to the amount of spam comments received. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, keep watching soccer!