The 47th edition of the Copa America is underway after a turbulent build up that saw the tournament relocated from Colombia and Argentina to Brazil at very short notice. There is justifiable criticism of how things have been handled off the field but, nevertheless, the action on the pitch promises to be hard-fought and full of drama.

As always, the competition will serve as a platform for some of the continent’s young rising stars to make a name for themselves. Below, we analyze five of the most interesting prospects on show.

Brian Ocampo (Uruguay, 21)

Uruguay come into the Copa off the back of a run of disappointing results and expectations are not high, despite boasting a talented squad including the likes of Suarez, Cavani and Valverde.

Veteran manager Oscar Tabarez – a man who has done so much to turn around the fortunes of Uruguayan football – has been accused of an overly cautious approach, as demonstrated by the fact they have failed to find the back of the net in their last three games.

Fortunately, there are some exciting youthful options in the squad who could give Los Charruas the much-needed attacking spark and principal among them is Nacional’s wing wizard Brian Ocampo.

Wyscout report: Brian Ocampo

The 21-year-old right winger has been in sensational form in 2021, with three goals and 12 assists in all competitions. A box of tricks with great invention, fantastic acceleration and a devilish cross, Ocampo is one of the most entertaining players to watch but now has the end product to go with his undeniable skill.

Wyscout report: Biran Ocampo's dribbles stats.

Still yet to make his debut, Ocampo will hope to feature off the bench and along with fellow young wide players Brian Rodriguez and Facundo Torres, will help Tabarez to rediscover Uruguay’s form in the final third.

Here we see Ocampo scamper down the right and then slow the tempo to draw in three Argentinos Juniors defenders. Waiting for the right moment, he then clips an inch-perfect ball into the path of the striker who beats the keeper to the ball to score the winner.
Ocampo shows his close control, strength and invention. He holds off two defenders before escaping with a clever Cruyff turn before driving towards the box to put in a dangerous cross.

Julio Enciso (Paraguay, 17)

The youngest player in the tournament, Enciso is the next big thing in Paraguayan football and will add some attacking excitement to Eduardo Berizzo’s well-organized but defense-minded side.

The 17-year-old forward has already netted seven goals in 30 games for Libertad, including a strike on his Libertadores debut against Jorge Wilstermann, making him the third-youngest player to score in the competition.

Wyscout report: Julio Enciso

Equally capable of playing wide or through the middle, Enciso has bags of pace and is a fearless, direct dribbler. In fact, no player has higher dribbles per 90 minutes (8.64) in the Paraguayan Division Professional this year than Enciso, while his 2.85 progressive runs per 90 place him in the top 3 in the league too.

Wyscout report: Enciso's shots data.

Despite spending much of his youth career as a midfielder, Enciso’s eye for goal and shooting ability meant he was always destined to be used further forward. A threat from both inside and outside the box, makes the teenager such a potent weapon in the final third.

Enciso cuts in off the left flank onto his favored right and, using the defender as a shield, unleashes an unstoppable swerving shot into the back of the net.

Enciso’s inclusion will be as much about gaining experience as anything but his debut off the bench against Bolivia clearly shows that is not just there to make up the numbers.

Clemente Montes (Chile, 20)

Chile were Copa America champions in 2015 and 2016 but are now in a period of transition as they look to move on from their golden generation and integrate some newer faces. The injury to Alexis Sanchez may well force their hand sooner than they’d expected but, nevertheless, it opens the door to exciting wide forward Clemente Montes.

The 20-year-old has been on the books of Universidad Catolica since the age of nine and, despite having only made 17 senior appearances for los Cruzados, has already made a big impact. This season he has averaged 17.35 offensive duels, 4.04 crosses and 3.23 progressive runs per 90 minutes.

Montes displays his pace (fig 1) to get in behind the full-back and forcing the center-back to come across and cover. Having stretched the defensive line, Montes gets past the next defender (fig 2) and pulls the ball back for his teammate on the edge of the area to fire the ball into the net.

Montes’ cameos off the bench in the Libertadores in particular caught the eye and his elegant, effortless running style, searing pace and deliveries from the left flank have seen him compared to Claudio Caniggia by legendary commentator Bambino Pons.

Here we see Montes timing his run into the box to take advantage of the space created by his teammate’s run. He then steadies himself, cuts back on to his right and bends one into the back of the net for his first goal in the Libertadores.

It will be fascinating to see whether Montes and fellow prospects Marcelino Nunez, Tomas Alarcon and Carlos Palacios can make an impact as Chile finally kick-start their much-needed rejuvenation.

Piero Hincapié (Ecuador, 19)

While much of the attention will rightly be on Ecuador’s excellent midfield sensation Moises Caicedo, there is another 19-year-old prospect who could also be in line for a breakthrough tournament.

Wyscout report: Piero Hincapié

An athletic, ball-playing left-sided center-back, Piero Hincapié has been rewarded for his club form at Argentinian side Talleres with a maiden call-up. Immediately thrown in at the deep end, the IDV youth product shone on his debut against Colombia, winning nine duels, making five ball recoveries and boasting a 100% tackle success rate.

Hincapié is isolated against Cuadrado but he gets into a great body position to show the Colombian down the line. Hincapié sticks with him and makes a well-timed tackle in the penalty box to avert the dangerous situation.

This will come as no surprise to those who have observed him over the last six months. No player blocked more shots than Hincapié during the Copa de la Liga and he averaged 8.31 defensive duels and 11.78 recoveries per 90 minutes.

Wyscout report: Hincapié's recoveries data.

As well as his speed across the ground, what also stands out when watching Hincapie is his comfort on the ball and his ability to construct from deep. Hincapie ranked in the top five for passes (804) and progressive passes (153) in Argentina this year. These skills could be vital as Ecuador look to play out from the back.

Here we see Hincapié’s ability on the ball as he brings the ball out of defense, cleverly jinks past the opponents and then picks out a great through ball with the outside of his left boot to create a goal scoring chance.

While Ecuador may use the Copa to try out different options, Hincapie’s presence is yet another promising sign that there are reasons to get excited about La Tri’s future.

Nico Gonzalez (Argentina, 23)

Most of Argentina’s lineup will be household names around the world, but one player flying somewhat under the radar is Stuttgart’s Nico Gonzalez. One of the success stories of Lionel Scaloni’s regime, the versatile left-sided player is steadily developing into a key cog for the Albiceleste and the Copa America could see him announce himself to a wider audience.

The former Argentinos Juniors man has impressed with his direct, tireless running, his tactical intelligence and clever movement, wherever he has been asked to play.

Here Gonzalez picks the ball up in a left-back position, being forced back into his own corner before spinning his man and embarking on a driving run past several players into Peru’s half.

Able to find pockets of space in the half-spaces and very adept at timing his runs to attack the ball, Gonzalez’s off-the-ball work cannot be understated.

Gonzalez makes an intelligent, purposeful run into the space behind the full-back, forcing the right-back, covering midfielder and right-sided center-back into action to cover. This seemingly simple run has occupied three players and freed up spaces centrally for Lo Celso too.
This time occupying a more central position, Gonzalez darts into the box, pinning the center-back and once again freeing up loads of space for both Acuna (number 8) and Lo Celso (number 20).

Rather than simply being a workhorse down the left flank Gonzalez has shown that he possesses plenty of attacking threat, with two vital goals against Paraguay and Peru in recent World Cup qualifying.

Gonzalez once again shows his clever movement as he finds a pocket of space, attacks Lo Celso’s pullback, goes past the unbalanced center-back and fires a low shot across the face of goal for the vital opener.

Given the long-held reservations about Di Maria’s inability to replicate his club form and the surprise exclusion of Lucas Ocampos, Gonzalez could well end up playing a significant role for Argentina as they look to end their 28-year trophy drought.

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