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Top 5 players at Copa America 2015 so far

Alexis

Up to this point, the Copa America has delivered on its reputation for chaotic soccer.

Already we’ve seen shocks, last-gasp winners, brawls, stunning displays of fandom and one of the competition’s star attractions banned for the duration of the Copa. We haven’t even gotten into the knockout stages of the competition yet either!

Naturally, there have been some standout performers too. Here’s a rundown of the tournament’s five best players so far as we gear up for a selection of intriguing quarter-final encounters.

SEE MOREGet the Copa America TV schedule, bracket and latest news.

 

5. Angel di Maria

Di Maria

After a turbulent season at club level, Angel di Maria seems to be finding some kind of form again with Argentina.

Admittedly, bright sparks have been scarce for the Albiceleste at this competition so far. Tata Martino’s side did qualify top of their group with a draw and two wins, but there was cause for concern in all three matches. Namely, the manner in which players like Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have had their influence nullified by less illustrious opponents.

With Colombia waiting in the quarter-finals, Martino needs to find a solution, but in Di Maria he possesses a midfielder who looks somewhere approaching his very best again. Against Jamaica in the last encounter in particular, a match in which the Albiceleste grafted their way to an underwhelming 1-0 win, the Manchester United man was the standout performer.

Di Maria has been stationed out on the left flank in the main and after being shifted around the Red Devils side under Louis van Gaal last season, it’s little surprise that some positional consistency has prompted some consistent performances.

The former Real Madrid man is a player who seems to relish the big occasion and he’ll be key to breaking down an obdurate Colombia side in the quarter-finals. If Messi, Aguero et al continue to struggle for rhythm, it could be up to Di Maria to assume a talismanic role if Argentina are going to end their 22-year wait for silverware.

 

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4. Thiago Silva

Thiago

It’s been a tumultious tournament for Brazil so far, with Neymar losing his rag completely against Colombia, getting a red card and subsequently being banned for the remainder of the competition. But in Thiago Silva, Dunga has a defender that will provide this team with some unshakeable solidity.

Having missed the first game, the Paris Saint-Germain star came back into the side for games against Colombia and Venezuela, immediately giving the Selecao defense a much more sturdy feel. And while he may not have been handed the captain’s armband by Dunga in Neymar’s absence, the team’s former skipper’s tremendous leadership skills will be vital in the latter stages.

The decision not to make Silva the captain certainly raised a few eyebrows, but if his display against Peru was anything to go by, perhaps some diminished responsibility will allow the defender to focus on his playing duties. For a man revered as one of the best center-backs in the game, that can only be a positive.

When Neymar and Silva were both missing in Brazil’s humbling by Germany in Belo Horizonte 12 months ago, the absence of the former was lamented much more than that of the latter. So expect the defender to be insatiable in his desire to prove a point in Selecao colors and continue to set an admirable example.

If Brazil are going to go all the way without Neymar, the influence of other experienced heads will be so important. But as we’ve seen already, none more so than Silva.

 

3. Jeison Murillo

Murillo

Colombia thrilled the watching world with some effervescent displays in Brazil last summer, but the attacking swagger that was so prominent at the World Cup has abated. Indeed, it’s actually young central defender Jeison Murillo who has been the standout performer for Jose Pekerman’s side so far.

With the experienced Mario Yepes now retired, Los Cafeteros were hoping that one of their crop of young central defenders would emerge on the big stage. Murillo has slotted into the back four alongside Carlos Zapata seamlessly, providing a perfect foil for his more experienced counterpart.

Watching his measured performances so far, it’s startling that Murillo is only 23 years old. Not only is he a calm and composed operator, but the new Internazionale signing is a brilliant reader of the game, quick across the ground and a tenacious tackler too.

Pekerman will be hoping the knockout stages will bring the best out of his attacking stars, with none of James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, Radamel Falcao or Jackson Martinez making any sort of impression so far. Indeed, the only goal Colombia have scored in the competition game courtesy of Murillo, ending Los Cafeteros’ long wait for a win over Brazil.

Whatever happens in the remainder of this tournament, it’s encouraging for Colombia that a perennially problematic area seems to have been solved with Murillo. With Messi, Aguero and Di Maria all to come next, it’s vital the center-back preserves the high levels he’s showcased so far.

 

2. Alexis Sanchez

Alexis 1

In a tournament that’s been a little short on stellar striker performances, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez is the only orthodox forward to make it into the top five players of the group stages.

But the Arsenal star has been sensational for La Roja. In a team that’s renowned for its adaptability and unpredictability, Sanchez has a crucial role to play in myriad of different positions. Up to now, whichever role he’s been deployed in he’s performed with a patented ferocity and infectious endeavor.

Jorge Sampaoli’s principles are perfect for Sanchez to flourish. Chile go about their business with energy and intensity, with the former Barcelona man setting the tone at the point of the attack. Sanchez seems to crave the touch of a loose ball more just as much as he does applying the finishing touches to a flowing move; it’s a trait which must breath life into those around him.

It’s the kind of attitude that’s allowed Chile to coast through the group stages and into what is a hugely favorable top half of the draw.

Some sides would allow complacency to creep into their game in these circumstances, but with Sanchez leading the charge with his explosive mix of finesse and ferocity, don’t expect anything other than a comprehensive performance from the hosts.

 

1. Charles Aranguiz

Aranguiz

Selected by World Soccer Talk as one of the four players to watch at this Copa America, Charles Aranguiz has not disappointed at the heart of the Chile midfield.

While Arturo Vidal has been making the headlines—for reasons on and off the pitch—at the heart of this La Roja team Aranguiz has proven yet again that he’s the metronome that keeps an otherwise frantic Chile team in cohesion. At this competition, he’s enhanced his reputation further with three rounded displays.

The Internacional midfielder has got better and better as the tournament has rumbled on too. Admittedly, Chile’s last match was against minnows Bolivia—who have qualified for the last eight, it must said—and they ran out 5-0 winners. But La Verde have proven themselves to be tough opposition in this competition and Aranguiz’s incisive passing and timely bursts forward provided the platform for a comfortable La Roja win.

In a section of the draw lacking the flair sides, Chile are set to encounter more teams looking to bunker in and restrict space. As such, Aranguiz’s ability to win the ball back, recycle possession quickly and move forward at opportune moments will be vital if the hosts are to make it all the way to the final.

Do that and Aranguiz could find himself as one of the most sought after players in world soccer this summer. Already the 26-year-old has been linked with Arsenal and Manchester City; if he could replicate these kinds of standards in the Premier League, the Chilean would be a savvy acquisition for any side in England.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

 

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