Vatsal Dani performs the tough task of picking the 5 best performing Talent Radar youngsters from the recently concluded Copa America 2016.
The Centenario version of Copa America may have been on the shorter side of the usual drama and entertainment value but in lacked in no way in the overall quality of football played throughout the tournament. The Copa had its fair share of surprises as some of the traditional powerhouses of American football failed to stamp their authority whereas the emerging powers made everyone notice their potential might. The continents of America are known for relentlessly producing world class talents. This time in the Copa America, not only did we see the brightest youngsters from South America, but also had some of the finest talents from its northern counterpart.
It is always fascinating to watch some fearless and nonchalant football from young players who are hungry for success. So here we are presenting five of the most promising talents who have graced the grandest stage of American football.
Hirving Lozano // Mexico // Winger // 20
The little dynamo from Pachuca is known for his pace and dribbling as he has been terrorizing Mexican defenders for almost three years now. A classic modern day inverted winger who likes to cut inside at every possible opportunity. With all his inherent pace and dribbling, it is natural for him to be a player who loves taking on the defenders.
He had a decent outing at Copa America Centenario with El Tri, where he shone in bits and pieces. He was always brought on to freshen up things for Mexico from the bench. He may have failed to set the stage alight in United States but surely made everyone notice him. Mexico’s coach Juan Carlos Osorio looked for inspiration from Lozano in the quarter-finals where they were being blown to smithereens by the defending champions, Chile. Sadly, Lozano failed to shine against the resolute defensive organization of the Chileans but he surely proved that his coach looks up to him as a potential talisman.
He also likes to participate in the build-up play, as he is known to be a good passer of the ball. This is one of the most important qualities of an inverted winger. These qualities made him a perfect super sub at the Copa America, where he would be freely allowed to run at the rival defences.
He may not yet have the exceptional skills of someone like Eden Hazard but with the right guidance, he is very much capable of blossoming into something magical. And this Copa America was just a learning curve for the Mexican as he will have many more such tournaments to set alight in future.
Renato Tapia // Peru // Midfielder // 20
Peru surprised one and all by winning the group which consisted of Ecuador and Brazil. The major factor in Peru’s stunning feat was the grit and steel displayed by the team. And one guy who embodies these qualities is a young midfielder from Lima who is carving a niche for himself in the national team, Feyenoord’s defensive enforcer, Renato Tapia.
Tapia isn’t like any other South American midfielder who likes to dazzle with flair. He is a true enforcer who likes impose himself with all his might and authority. An excellent winner of the ball, Tapia is extremely proactive when it comes to tackling. Adding to this, he is also gifted with defensive nous, which is extremely rare in young players.
He was a mainstay in Ricardo Gareca’s Peruvian starting XI where he was predominantly deployed as a defensive midfielder. His ability to recover possession is one the major reasons why he is preferred as a defensive lynchpin and not as a central midfielder or even as a box-to-box type. He was absolutely stunning against Columbia in the quarter-finals, where they strangled Colombians for 120 minutes.
With such commendable maturity at this age, the future looks bright for this young man.
Gabriel Barbosa // Brazil // Striker // 19
It was a shambolic Copa America campaign for Brazil as they crashed out of the tournament in the group stages. The Brazilian team for the tournament wasn’t one of the brightest as Dunga had his hands tied up due to the upcoming Olympics in Rio. Despite this he strung together a decent group of players which should’ve at least progressed to the knockout stages, considering the group they had to deal with.
But amongst these was a young prodigy who is set to create a cult of sorts for him in future. 19 year old Gabriel Barbosa was the shining beacon of hope in this tumultuous campaign. Unabashed and pleasant, the Santos man was somewhat an antithesis of everything that’s plaguing Brazilian football at the moment.
Gabigol, as he is fondly known, was used as a substitute in all the three games. Despite this he had significant impact in two of three games. He was sublime against Haiti and he lacked that finishing touch in Brazil’s finale defeat to Peru.
Gabriel is considered as Neymar’s heir to the legacy of both Santos and domestic Brazilian football. A gifted attacker who is equally lethal with both of his feet and skills which are right on par with the best in his age group. He is everything a manager looks out for in an attacker. The 19 year old looked set for a great Copa America, especially in absence of captain, Neymar. Alas! He wasn’t effectively used by Dunga which made this a forgettable tourney for the Samba Boys.
Christian Pulisic // United States // Attacking midfielder // 17
US have finally found a yet another wonderkid to boast about after the tragic fall of Freddy Adu. He was snapped up by Borussia Dortmund in January after impressing one and all. The teen prodigy is considered a flexible attacker who can play literally anywhere around the front three and also anywhere behind the striker. The versatile forward is one of the most gifted players in the US national team and his performances surely didn’t disappoint both fans and critics alike.
The Pennsylvania born forward wasn’t going to be a guaranteed starter for his national team and it was expected of him to get some game-time from the bench. Jurgen Klinsmann usually deployed him on the left-wing and he was impressive to say the least. He was brought on as a second-half substitute in their opening day defeat to Colombia. He was good in patches and it was evident why he is not a finished product just yet. He was benched for the remaining games and wasn’t summoned till it got dark and gloomy for the hosts in the semis.
The Yanks were getting battered by the Argentines and were trailing 2-0 at the half-time. Klinsmann looked to his most gifted talent to get them out of rut in the second half as Pulisic was summoned in the second half. Sadly, he couldn’t prevent the USMNT from getting hammered by arguably one of the best teams in the competition. But the way he tried taking the game to the La Albicelsete was commendable. The courage displayed there was way beyond someone who is aged 17.
Pulisic was chosen ahead of Julian Green for this Copa America and he proved why.
Marlos Moreno // Colombia // Winger // 19
Columbia has had quite a few gifted forwards in this decade. From Radamel Falcao to James Rodriguez, it has been a factory of world-class forwards donning the Columbian colours. One such prodigy who is planning to make that list is Atletico Nacional’s Marlos Moreno.
Moreno is a fluid attacker who is predominantly deployed on wings due to his dribbling and a powerful shooting. He is a classic forward who keeps his stuff simple. He doesn’t have a word called half-measures in his vocabulary. It’s always all or nothing. His conviction is his major asset. And this is what made Jose Pekerman select him for the Copa America Centenario.
He was given his chance in the final group game after Colombians had already booked a berth in the second round. He absolutely ran riot against the Costa Ricans in his first appearance and he capped it with a superb goal. It was a dream Copa debut for the teenager. He was again ignored for the knockouts. But as destiny would have it, Pekerman once again summoned Columbia’s prodigy in the semi-finals against the rock-solid Chileans. He didn’t have a superb outing as he did against Costa Rica but he surely gave the defending champions a scare or two.
If Moreno keeps his head straight above his shoulders, he surely can make world notice Medellin once again. And, it won’t be for Pablo Escobar.
Written by Vatsal Dani
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