As the oldest continental football tournament began its 45th edition last week, FCapitalSport takes a look at some of the London stars involved in this prestigious competition.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile + Arsenal)
Chile began their defence of the Copa America title this week with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at the hands of tournament favourites Argentina. This result sees them lie third in their group, a situation they will be hoping to rectify in their remaining group games against Bolivia (11th June) and Panama (15th June). However, with Arsenal’s mercurial winger in their side the Chileans will still be confident of progressing far in this years competition.
Sanchez has been a talisman for his nation ever since his international debut back in April 2006, and has played a pivotal role in Chile’s recent successes. The forward scored 4 times in Chilie’s qualifying campaign for the World Cup in 2014, and replicated his fantastic form during the finals in Brazil, scoring his sides opening goal against Australia and netting the equalising goal against South American rivals Brazil in the round of 16. Unfortunately for Sanchez his World Cup tournament ended in despair, as his side went out to Brazil after Alexis saw his penalty saved by Brazilian keeper Cesar. Chile’s success in the 2015 Copa America quickly eclipsed these feelings however, and Sanchez’s winning goal against Argentina in the final will surely be one he remembers for years to come.
This year Sanchez has been one of the shining lights in a fairly average Arsenal side. Alexis netted 17 times in 41 games for the Gunners this year, just falling short of his outstanding 25 goal record in his debut Premier League campaign. Despite this, Sanchez did succeed in breaking new record, his three goals against Leicester making him the first player to score a hatrick in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. The Chilean therefore seems to be a player well suited to both club and international stages, with bookmakers taking odds of 20/1 on the Chilean forward to win top goalscorer, even after his sides opening defeat to Argentina. Whether Chile replicate their fantastic performances of 2015 or not, there is no doubt that Sanchez will play a huge role in this years competition.
Willian (Brazil + Chelsea)
A disappointing goalless draw to Ecuador in their opening game was eclipsed by Brazil’s fantastic 7-1 thrashing of Haiti in their second group match. Willian started each of these games, setting up Brazil’s best chance against Ecuador and assisting Coutinho’s outstanding display against Haiti. Although this is far from the strongest Brazilian side we have seen in recent years, with Barcelona’s Neymar deciding to play in the Olympics instead of the Copa America, there is still much creative talent in offensive positions and players such as Willian will be important if Brazil are to win their 9th continental title.
Unlike Sanchez, Chelsea’s Willian is yet to make a real impact on the international stage. After making his debut appearance for Brazil in 2011 it took the forward until the end of 2013 to net his first goal for his country, in a 5-0 thrashing of Honduras. Willian’s only real significant international contribution since then was his appearance as a half time substitute against Chile is Brazil’s last 16 match at the 2014 World Cup. After replacing Chelsea teammate Oscar, Willian failed to make the required impact, and later went on to miss his penalty in the shootout. Although featuring in last years Copa America, the West London forward again flopped on the international stage, failing to reproduce his outstanding club form.
At club level Willian has had another fantastic season, a shining light in Chelsea’s otherwise miserable campaign. 11 goals in 46 appearances for the Blues this year has fully justified his previously questionable £30 million pound price tag. Notably Willian managed a record 6 goals from freekicks in Europe, making him the most successful freekick taker in Europe this season. The Brazilian was recognised for these performances at the end of the 2015/16 Premier League campaign, winning both Chelsea Fans’ Player and Players’ Player of the Year.
With the likes of Neymar missing from this years Brazilian squad, 2016 presents a good opportunity for Willian to find his feet for Brazil and continue a successful season. Solid performances in his opening two matches show encouraging signs for fans of the Brazilian, but it remains to be seen whether the Chelsea lad can produce the goals in the later stages when it really matters for his country.
Enner Valencia (Ecuador + West Ham)
A well-earned point against Brazil and a hard fought 2-2 draw with Peru in their second game mean that Ecuador need a win against Haiti to give themselves a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of this years Copa America. Valencia has been key to all that has been good about Ecuador in this competition so far, having his sides best effort on goal from a freekick against Brazil and scoring a low drive into the bottom corner for Ecuador’s opening goal against Peru.
Since being called up to the Ecuadorian first team in February 2012 Valencia has settled well into international football. Although beginning his career for his country as a winger, Valencia soon found his best position to be up-front and has emerged as a prolific striker for both club and country. His attacking ability was showcased nowhere more so than the 2014 Brazilian World Cup, scoring Ecuador’s first goal of the tournament in a 2-1 defeat to Switzerland. After impressing in their opening match, Valencia started Ecuador’s following games against Honduras, Bolivia and the US, scoring four goals and winning much media attention.
Valencia’s fantastic performances on football’s biggest stage earned him a £12 million pound move to London and West Ham United in the summer of 2014. This year however, Valencia has been little more than a squad rotation player, filling in when required for the injured Andy Carroll. This was in no small part down to knee and ankle injuries sustained in a Europa League qualification match, which ruled the striker out for 12 weeks at the start of the campaign.
Despite an unremarkable year in London, Valencia is now back to full fitness and performing as well as ever for his national side. With one goal already in this competition the Hammer will surely be looking to extend his proud international goalscoring record and help Ecuador progress far in this, the 100th anniversary year of the Copa America.
Other London players at the 2016 Copa America: Erik Lamela (Argentina +Tottenham), David Ospina (Arsenal + Colombia), Joel Campbell (Arsenal + Costa Rica), Paredes (Watford + Ecuador), Mariappa (Crystal Palace + Jamaica), Micheal Hector (Chelsea + Jamaica), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham + USA)
By Freddie Stuart.