For a soccer team that has fallen on tough times, that final appearance in 2011 was a rare high. The vast majority of Paraguay’s most high-profile players are aging, the young players coming through aren’t of a similar quality and an experienced squad named by Diaz is emblematic of the nation’s current demographic of top players.
Although star striker Oscar Cardozo will miss the Chile showpiece, the main strengths in this squad remain in the forward department. Team captain Santa Cruz will lead the line, but with players like Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios also in situ, there are plenty of thoroughbred goalscorers to chose from.
In 2011 this team proved they could be cohesive and difficult to beat, but it’s going to be tough for Diaz to get a similarly solid tune out of this group having only taken the Albirroja job in December 2014. With that in mind, a repeat of their sequence from four years ago is surely beyond them.
A third place finish and potential qualification as one of the top third placed teams seems their best route into the knockout stages. But for Diaz, this tournament is a chance to run the rule over some squad members in major competition and build some foundations for the World Cup qualification campaign in 2018.
Key Player: Roque Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is Paraguay’s all-time record goalscorer and the offensive burden is likely to be primarily on his shoulders in Chile.
Granted, the forward will be reliant on the service he’ll be in receipt of from midfielder players, but the 33-year-old striker is someone capable of pouncing on any opportunities that come his way. For Santa Cruz, this is likely to be his final Copa America and he’ll be desperate to make an impression in what could be his international farewell when it comes to major tournaments.
Goalkeepers: Alfredo Aguilar (Guarani), Anthony Silva (Independiente Medellin), Justo Villar (Colo Colo)
Defenders: Pablo Aguilar (America), Fabian Balbuena (Libertad), Marcos Caceres (Newell’s Old Boys), Paulo Da Silva (Toluca), Ivan Piris (Udinese), Miguel Samudio (America), Bruno Valdez (Cerro Porteno)
Midfielders: Eduardo Aranda (Olimpia), Victor Caceres (Flamengo), Osvaldo Martinez (America), Osmar Molinas (Libertad), Nestor Ortigoza (San Lorenzo), Richard Ortiz (Toluca), Oscar Romero (Racing)
Forwards: Lucas Barrios (Montpellier), Edgar Benitez (Toluca), Raul Bobadilla (Augsburg), Derlis Gonzalez (Basel), Nelson Haedo Valdez (Eintracht Frankfurt), Roque Santa Cruz (Cruz Azul)
Head Coach: Winfried Schafer
Captain: Rodolph Austin
Jamaica are one of the two invited teams in this year’s competition and they’ll competing for the first time in the nation’s history.
Little is expected of them in terms of progression, but for Schafer and his player, this is a unique opportunity to test their merits against some of the world’s top players. The Reggae Boyz have played with an energy and flair under his tutelage; expect them to be entertaining, if not altogether effective.
As fellow Group B sides Paraguay and Uruguay will attest to, the Copa does have a propensity for churning out surprise results. Therefore, Jamaica will go into this competition with positive intentions and will be hopeful of picking up a positive result against Paraguay at least.
Getting beyond the group stages seems beyond them, though. Although they have some capable players in all facets of the side—Adrian Mariappa and Wes Morgan provide a solid base, Austin drives the team forward in midfield and Simon Dawkins gives an effervescent edge up front—the quality in the first XI isn’t there to match the top sides.
Nonetheless, don’t expect Jamaica to have any issues playing with freedom in an attempt to upset the odds against the top sides; any matches involving the Reggae Boyz should be a fascinating spectacle.
Key Player: Simon Dawkins
Following on from a disappointing end to the season for his club side Derby County, Dawkins will be desperate to make amends for his international team this summer.
The winger is a player who seems ready to make the step up to the top level of English football and this summer’s tournament is a brilliant opportunity to showcase some of his talents. Quick, tricky and a strong finisher, Dawkins will be Jamaica’s best chance of nicking a goal and springing a surprise in Group B.
Goalkeepers: Ryan Thompson (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), Duwayne Kerr (Sarpsborg 08), Dwayne Miller (Syrianska)
Defenders: Wes Morgan (Leicester City), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Michael Hector (Reading), Daniel Gordon (Karlsruhe), Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace), Hughan Gray (Waterhouse FC), Kemar Lawrence (NY Red Bulls)
Midfielders: Je-Vaughn Watson (FC Dallas), Rodolph Austin (Leeds United), Joel Grant (Yeovil Town), Lance Laing (FC Edmonton), Garath McCleary (Reading), Joel McAnuff (Leyton Orient)
Forwards: Allan Ottey, Dino Williams (both Montego Bay United), Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo), Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps), Simon Dawkins (Derby County), Deshorn Brown (Valerenga Oslo), Romeo Parkes (Metapan)
Head Coach: Dunga
Brazil Hoping to Banish Memories of Major Tournament Humiliation
After that loss to Germany in Belo Horizonte in the semi-final of their own World Cup, Brazil were always going to have to undergo a stage of significant transition. Nonetheless, a few quizzical eyebrows were raised when former manager Dunga was handed the job for a second time after an underwhelming first tenure.
In truth, his pragmatic approach is exactly what this team have needed. They may have deviated a little from the principles synonymous with the country’s samba style, but Brazil are now more resolute, more cohesive in defense and have made steady progress under the tutelage of the former World Cup-winning captain.
It was a diligence on show in earnest when the Selecao edged past Chile in a far from friendly exhibition match at the Emirates earlier this year and when they beat France on the road. But as this summer’s showpiece edges ever closer, the challenge for Brazil is to up the ante, bring some swagger back to their football and make up for the myriad major tournament failures in recent years.
Indeed, while everyone thinks back to the 7-1 humbling in Belo Horizonte, Brazil were also abject in the previous Copa, going out on penalties against Paraguay in the quarter-finals. If they were to fall short once again, big questions would be asked, not only over the manager, but of the mental strength of the entire squad.
There’s no reason to suggest Brazil will falter this time, however. They’re a team that are making small but significant steps under Dunga, have a squad bristling with vibrant young talent and in Neymar, a player that has forged his reputation as a thoroughbred world-class talent in the 2014/15 season.
They’ll be there or there about come the climax in Chile and this is a group of players capable of taking the competition by storm. Doing so would go a long way to healing the gaping wounds still are raw from their shocking World Cup elimination.
Key Player: Neymar
It’s a virtually impossible job to step out of Messi’s shadow at Barcelona, but this year Neymar has done his utmost to match the extraordinary levels of the Argentina star. Consequentially, the Brazil captain has taken his game to new heights in what’s been such a prosperous campaign for the Blaugrana.
In Selecao colors, Neymar really enjoys being the main man. His goalscoring record for the national team is stunning and after being handed the armband following the World Cup, the former Santos man is relishing the responsibility of leading this fanatical football country into a critical new era.
Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Marcelo Grohe (Grêmio), Neto (Fiorentina)
Defenders: Fabinho (Monaco), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Chelsea), Danilo (Porto), David Luiz (PSG), Marquinhos (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), Miranda (Atletico de Madrid)
Midfielders: Elias (Corinthians), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Willian (Chelsea), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Everton Ribeiro (Al-Ahli), Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk), Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Forwards: Neymar (Barcelona), Robinho (Santos), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim), Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng)
Head Coach: Jose Pekerman
Captain: Radamel Falcao
Colombia Hoping to Consolidate Strong World Cup Showing
Playing with a vibrancy and swagger throughout the 2014 World Cup, Colombia were one of the major success stories of the Brazil showpiece.
They were unlucky to lose in the quarters to the hosts in that competition and will be desperate to cement their reputation as a top tier side with a strong showing here. The squad assembled by Pekerman is set to guarantee excitement once again and they have the qualities to put together a decent run in the competition.
The attacking talent in this squad is obviously where this team’s strengths lie. With the creative talents of James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado providing chances for the likes of Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez, this is a team that’ll always score goals.
Given the strength in depth Pekerman can call upon up front, with players like Carlos Bacca, Victor Ibarbo and Teo Gutierrez likely to begin on the bench, there is always an option for Colombia to alter matters if things aren’t quite going their way. However, there’s not a surfeit of options in other facets of the squad.
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