Goal diggers: 12 stars set to shine in Copa America 2024

Goal diggers: 12 stars set to shine in Copa America 2024

Copa America promises a new chapter of triumphs, heartbreaks and unforgettable moments in football history as the stars of the Western Hemisphere prepare to shine their brightest.

In 2021, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the world witnessed a thrilling football showdown between Brazil and Argentina. Brazil, led by Thiago Silva, faced Argentina, captained by Lionel Messi, who was hungry for his first international trophy after several near-misses.

Twenty-two minutes into the match, Angel Di Maria scored with a chip over Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson, giving Argentina a lead they maintained until the final whistle. Messi, overjoyed, had finally secured his elusive international trophy, marking the start of his journey to ‘complete’ football.

The latest edition of the tournament features top football talents, from Messi in his immaculate maturity to Brazil’s rising star Endrick. It promises new chapters of triumph, heartbreak and unforgettable moments in football history. Prepare for the stars of the Western Hemisphere to shine their brightest.

Lionel Messi is returning to the Copa America to defend Argentina’s title. After winning the last edition of the Copa to end his international trophy drought, he went on to lift the World Cup, making his status as the GOAT virtually inarguable.

Messi, following an incredible season with MLS side Inter Miami, would be hoping to give it his all in what could be the final Copa America tournament of his career as a player. It is left to be seen if the little man from Rosario is able to weave his magic once again on the pitch to lead his country to back-to-back Copa wins.

Despite scoring just three goals in 30 caps for Brazil, Vinicius Jr. will be his country’s X factor in the Copa America. Following a stellar season with Real Madrid, where he won the Champions League, he is determined to win a trophy for his country.

Known for his speed and technical prowess, he has a chance to shine in Neymar's absence at the Copa America. While his demeanour on the pitch of provoking opposition players and fans might be off-putting, his versatility and impressive club performance have placed him firmly in the conversation for the Ballon d'Or. Winning the Copa could solidify his status as a favorite for the prestigious award.

Known for his incredible work rate, versatility and ability to control the midfield, Federico Valverde was pivotal for Real Madrid as they completed the double, winning La Liga and the Champions League. His vision, passing and goal-scoring prowess make him a key asset for Uruguay's campaign.

Last season, Valverde also took a more defensive role for Real Madrid with Jude Bellingham playing a more attacking role. Despite this, Valverde was able to get a crucial goal against Manchester City in the quarter-final.

Moises Caicedo’s past two-and-a-half years have been remarkable. Signed by Brighton in 2021, loaned to Beerschot, and then excelling on his return, he seamlessly adapted to the Premier League, particularly impressing alongside Alexis Mac Allister. Known for his defensive skills, Caicedo’s stellar performances led to a record transfer to Chelsea for £115 million.

Despite the pressure and some struggles, including criticism and adjustment issues, he remained a crucial player. His defensive prowess, international experience and versatility make him a valuable midfielder, highly regarded by coaches and fans alike.

Argentina's Lionel Messi kisses the trophy after beating Brazil 1-0 in the 2021 Copa America final 

James Rodriguez is a polarizing figure in Colombian football, revered as a national hero by many but seen as an underachiever by others. Famous for winning the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup, his career has since been inconsistent.

Now 32, Rodriguez still plays a crucial role for his country, serving as their creative force and captain despite frequent injuries. His precise left foot and tactical versatility make him essential for new manager Nestor Lorenzo’s more direct play style. Rodriguez would be vital if Colombia wishes to have success in their Copa America campaign.

Alphonso Davies, a football success story, is at a pivotal moment in his career. Born in a Ghana refugee camp and raised in Canada, Davies played his way through the Vancouver Whitecaps to join Bayern Munich at 17.

Known for his speed, dribbling, and attacking prowess, he became one of the world's top left-backs. However, since scoring Canada's first men's World Cup goal in 2022, his form has dipped, and speculation about a move to Real Madrid has clouded his future.

Recently used more as a midfielder at Bayern, Davies aims to elevate Canada's international standing at the Copa America, all while his club future remains uncertain.

With 55 caps, Miguel Almiron will play a crucial role in Paraguay’s chances despite only scoring seven international goals. At Newcastle United, his journey has been rocky since his 2019 arrival from Atlanta United. Initially struggling under different managers, he found success under Eddie Howe, scoring 11 Premier League goals in the 2022-23 season. However, his form dipped last season with just five goals.

Despite scoring Newcastle's first Champions League goal in 20 years, his future at the club is uncertain due to Premier League rules and potential interest from other clubs.

In the 123rd minute of the 2022 World Cup final, Emiliano Martinez's crucial save against France's Kolo Muani cemented his place in Argentine football history and helped Argentina lift the World Cup after 36 years. His bold personality and antics, such as his penalty-saving dance and colourful hairstyles, have made him a cult hero.

Martinez, known for his reflexes and commanding presence, outperformed many goalkeepers in the 2023-24 season, preventing nearly nine goals above expectation. Despite criticism for his controversial celebrations, he is revered in Argentina and will be key to their bid to defend the Copa title in the coming campaign.

Alexis Mac Allister almost missed the 2022 World Cup but became a key player for Argentina after Giovani Lo Celso's injury. He excelled in Qatar, transforming Argentina’s midfield alongside Enzo Fernandez. Known for his precise right foot, positional awareness and tireless work rate, he has modernized Argentina’s play with verticality and ball progression.

His ability to maintain possession and play forward passes makes him crucial to Argentina's tactics. As he continues to evolve, Mac Allister, now a world champion, aims to further solidify his international stardom at the Copa America.

Endrick, a 17-year-old Brazilian football prodigy, shows maturity beyond his years, both on and off the pitch. Known for his technical skill, intelligence and composure, he made headlines as Brazil's fourth-youngest goalscorer and will soon join Real Madrid.

Endrick's career began with Palmeiras, where he quickly established himself as a top talent, breaking records and winning titles. His combination of speed, strength and clinical finishing has solidified his role as a central striker. Celebrated for his talent and demeanour, Endrick is seen as a potential solution to Brazil's striker crisis, as the nation hopes he will lead them into a successful future.

By age 23, Julian Alvarez had won the Copa Libertadores, Copa America, World Cup, and Champions League. Initially a No. 9, he adapted to support Lionel Messi defensively during Argentina’s World Cup run, playing as a midfielder without the ball and a striker with it.

At Manchester City, Alvarez has filled in for Kevin De Bruyne, functioning between a No. 8 and a strike partner for Erling Haaland. This versatility has slightly impacted his goal-scoring, with 11 Premier League goals this season but fewer international goals. Praised by Messi, Alvarez remains the preferred choice for Argentina.

The Copa America promises to be a showcase of exceptional talent. These players, among others, will undoubtedly provide thrilling performances and captivating moments, making it a tournament not to be missed.

Argentina's Lionel Messi kisses the trophy after beating Brazil 1-0 in the 2021 Copa America final