The five Premier League stars who can light up Copa America 2011

The South American tournament has a dazzling selection of talent from around the world, but looks at the quintet from England's top flight who could spark it into life

By Miles Chambers

The 2011 Copa America kicks off on Friday and, in the following three weeks, Argentina will host some of the biggest players on the planet.

All the top English clubs will have one eye on the tournament during pre-season preparations, looking out for the brightest and best young talents blossoming on the international stage. But with plenty of Premier League talent already on show, has highlighted five players playing in England who have the potential to light up the tournament with their ability and possibly carry their country to victory.

The first glaring omission many will notice is the lack of a Brazilian. Chelsea duo David Luiz and Ramires are both excellent players but their impact in a side containing the attacking talent of Robinho, Neymar and Alexandre Pato is questionable. Tottenham’s Sandro and Liverpool’s Lucas suffer a similar fate, with their Brazil compatriots more than likely to steal the show if the side shine.

Chicharito has had a magnificent debut season at Manchester United but has been rested by Mexico for the competition.

Manchester City teammate Pablo Zabaleta is a solid defender but it is nigh-on impossible for him to light up the event with Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria and Ballon d’Or holder Lionel Messi on the pitch with him. Nonetheless, five attacking talents do make the grade...

Presenting's Premier League stars who can light up Copa America


Read more on Dos Santos
Age: 22

Club: Tottenham

Goals last season: 5 (on loan at Racing Santander)

Intl caps: 45

Intl goals: 11

Topscorer odds: 39/1

Intl debut: 1-0 vs Panama, September 9, 2007

He may not be a Premier League superstar but he is in scintillating form for Mexico, scoring a stunning individual goal to seal a 4-2 victory in the Gold Cup final last month against USA.

Since joining Tottenham in 2008 he has struggled to break into the first team, with Spurs manager Harry Redknapp clearly not won over. On the international stage, however, the attacker has always been prolific and was runner-up in the 2010 World Cup’s young player of the tournament award.

But will he be fully focused on the task at hand? His brother Jonathan dos Santos was one of eight Mexico internationals sent home ahead of the Conmebol event following a breach of squad rules. Mexico’s head coach will hope the 22-year-old is motivated otherwise the national side could be ripe for picking. They have been forced to send their second-team to the tournament as Concacaf stated they could not send their first team immediately after the Gold Cup.

Mexico have a solid history in the Copa America, always reaching at least the quarter-finals. Although they do not have a championship under their belt, their recent Gold Cup victory will provide them with much needed battle armour to get out of a group with Chile, Peru and Uruguay. Dos Santos has more caps than 21 out of the 22 other teammates put together, and will need to be a leader on and off the pitch to ensure he lights up Argentinean soil.

Who knows, maybe if he returns to England a star of the competition he could brighten British grounds too.


Read more on Rodallega
Age: 25

Club: Wigan

Goals last season: 9

Intl caps: 38

Intl goals: 8

Topscorer odds: 24/1

Intl debut: 1-1 vs Venezuela, March 1, 2006

A Wigan Athletic player could be a star of Copa America? The dark horse of’s quintet, Hugo Rodallega made our list because although he may not play for a glamorous club or have dazzling trickery, he is a proven finisher and most definitely a match winner. His 78th minute goal on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign saved the Latics from relegation; if he can make an impact even marginally comparable to that feat at the Copa America it will be a job well done.

Colombia’s coach – who also took charge of the South American side in the 1998 World Cup – has been deploying 4-1-4-1 formation of late which could mean Rodallega will struggle for a starting place. However, if Hernan Dario Gomez opts to deploy two strikers, a partnership between the Wigan striker and Porto’s Radamel Falcao could be spell-binding.

The Porto vice-captain excelled under Andre Villas-Boas playing excellently towards the end of the 2010-11 season and is rumoured to be wanted by Chelsea, where his boss last year now resides.

Rodallega has the added bonus of having played in a Copa America before. In the final group game in 2007 against USA he had to go in goal after their keeper was sent off and no more substitutes could be made. He was able to keep a clean sheet but, despite the 1-0 win, they exited the tournament.

The Wigan hitman will be crossing his fingers he is given the opportunity to propel the country forward this month and save them from being humiliated in a group including hosts Argentina.


Read more on Suarez
Age: 24

Club: Liverpool

Goals last season: 16
(4 for Liverpool, and 12 for Ajax)

Intl caps: 42

Intl goals: 17

Topscorer odds: 17/1

Intl debut: 3-1 vs Colombia, February 8, 2007

He might have been the villain of the 2010 World Cup for many – his blatant handball in the final moments of the quarter-final denying Ghana a semi-final berth – but he became a hero in Uruguay.

The forward formed a deadly partnership with striker Diego Forlan (who won Golden Ball at the tournament) and helped the country of under 4 million reach the semi-finals of football’s biggest stage for the first time in forty years. Even his detractors could not deny the guy oozed talent.

The tournament cemented his reputation as a rising star and it seemed he was destined for a bigger stage than Ajax could offer him. He made his long-gestated move to the Premier League in January and subsequently played a key role in Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool revival, bringing them tantalisingly close to securing a place in Europe. He was a bundle of energy in every appearance and will no doubt want to take this momentum into the national side’s opening Copa America match against Peru on July 4.

It’s widely believed manager Oscar Tabarez will unleash a three-pronged attack of Suarez, Forlan and last season’s Serie A sensation, Edinson Cavani. Their combination of pace, precision and power could prove priceless, with Suarez’s tireless work ethic an ever-present trait. Uruguay have won the Copa America 14 times – the joint-highest of any country, with Argentina – and after a run to the semis in South Africa last year there will be high expectations. Suarez might not be holding the hopes of a nation of his shoulders alone but he has the potential to be one who can take them from underdog ankle-biters to pedigree champions.

CARLOS TEVEZ | Argentina

Read more on Tevez
Age: 27

Club: Manchester City

Goals last season: 23

Intl caps: 59

Intl goals: 13

Topscorer odds: 7/1

Intl debut: 1-0 vs Ecuador, March 30, 2004

Imagine, if you will, being the talisman of one of the richest clubs in the world, captaining the side to Champions League qualification in your second season with the side, and being one of the most coveted strikers in the world. Now imagine not being a guaranteed starter for your country. That is the situation Carlos Tevez faces with Argentina. Choosing who to start between the 27-year-old, Higuain, Messi, Sergio Aguero and Diego Milito cannot be an easy decision for any manager.

This is not to say the Eastlands striker will fail to thrive at the Copa America. It is just the coach Sergio Batista prefers a set-up without the City forward.

The Argentinean fans adore him though, they love the way he plays his football as do the fans at any club he graces, and ignoring their wishes will always be at a coach’s peril. If Tevez comes on as a substitute and scores an important goal expect insurmountable pressure to include him in the starting line-up for the rest of the Copa.

Argentina have not lifted the trophy since 1993, an agonising wait of 18 years for the two-time World Cup winners. Being hosts should give them a boost but they need grit and they need to dig their heels in if they are to reach the heights the talented squad should allow them too.


Read more on Valencia
Age: 25

Club: Manchester United

Goals last season: 3

Intl caps: 46

Intl goals: 5

Topscorer odds: 49/1

Intl debut: 5-2 vs Paraguay, March 27, 2005

He is still working his way back to his pinnacle form but who is to say Antonio Valencia cannot ascend those peaks in this month’s Copa America?

The Manchester United winger was sidelined with injury for such a long period of the 2010-11 campaign that it is easy to forget how influential he was the season before. His partnership with Wayne Rooney in his first year with the club was pivotal in taking the Red Devils to the semi-finals of the Champions League and to second place in the Premier League.

When he suffered his broken leg, the whole of Ecuador suffered. He is the only man in his country to have played in a Champions League final or won the Premier League, and without him the national side looks a lot weaker on paper. The country’s football fans will be praying his presence in the team will lift the squad and provide performances to remember in Argentina.

Coach Reinaldo Rueda will want the Old Trafford midfielder to link-up with strikers Felipe Caicedo and Christian Benitez, although success since he took charge of the South American side less than a year ago has been limited.

Expectations are not high, which should lessen the pressure on the pivotal player; but Valencia will need to step-up and make his mark if they are to progress out of a tough group containing Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela.

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