The group stages of the Copa America Centenario are now complete, and the headlines have largely been grabbed by the tournament’s big names. In the case of some, like Lionel Messi, Arturo Vidal and Philippe Coutinho, it has been for their goal-scoring exploits.
For others, like Luis Suarez and the Brazil team as a whole, it has been a tale of frustration and disappointment. In the case of Suarez, he has managed to hog media coverage despite not making it off the bench due to injury.
If you look behind the headlines, though, there have been a number of key performers who have contributed massively to their nation’s success in the group stages in the USA, even if they haven’t yet received the recognition they deserve.
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Fabian Johnson (USA)
The USA have performed roughly in line with expectations in the group stages. They lost their first game to an impressive Columbia side, but went on to win their final two matches against Paraguay and Costa Rica, scoring five without conceding.
A key factor in their final two victories has been the performances of their German-born left back, Fabian Johnson. The 28-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach star has been quietly effective from left back. His energetic displays down the left flank have seen him nullify opposition wingers, while also making considerable contributions to the attacks.
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He has yet to rack up any goals or assists in the tournament, but his effective overlapping has helped to create a number of chances, while his opposing numbers have struggled to gain a foothold in games due to his excellent positioning and determined tackling.
Paolo Guerrero (Peru)
At 32-years-old, the big Peruvian will be acutely aware that he is unlikely to have many more major international tournaments left in his career. He is no stranger to the big time, having started his career at Bayern Munich. However, having spent the last four seasons in the Brazilian league, he can no longer be considered one of the top names at this level of competition.
Nonetheless, Guerrero has rolled back the years and led the line superbly for Peru, as they played their part in sending Brazil home early. He’s only chipped in with the one goal so far, against the minnows of Haiti, but his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play has been a big factor in Peru’s performances so far.
Alejandro Guerra (Venezuela)
Probably the second biggest shock of the group stage, behind Brazil’s early exit, has been Uruguay’s failure to qualify for the knockout stages. Although considerably hampered by the loss of Luis Suarez through injury, Uruguay were still expected to overcome Venezuela and Jamaica.
The fact that they didn’t is partly down to the excellent performances of Alejandro Guerra. The 30-year-old midfielder has spent his career in Venezuela and latterly in Columbia. He has plenty of experience at international level and has used all of that experience to put in composed and controlled performances at the Copa America so far.
He is yet to find the back of the net, but has had attempts on goal in all three matches so far, as well as providing the assist for the winning goal against Jamaica. With the minority of possession in their matches against both Uruguay and Mexico, Venezuela have relied on their midfield to keep hold of the ball and create chances on the break. Guerra’s displays have been a big part of the reason they have been successful so far.
Christian Noboa (Ecuador)
Ecuador are certainly not the most glamorous team in the tournament. They have some famous names in their team, but certainly not the depth of superstars that many of their competitors in this year’s Copa America can call on.
Nevertheless, they have been tipped to do well by a number of observers, and so far, have just about lived up to those expectations. Their better-known midfielders are probably on the wings in the shape of Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero. However, arguably the standout performer for Ecuador in their first three games has been central midfielder, Christian Noboa.
The 31-year-old midfielder has had an interesting career path that has taken him from his native country Ecuador to Russia, then to Greece, and back to Russia again.
An excellent all-rounder, Noboa managed a goal and an assist against Haiti, and had more shots than any other Ecuador player in the games against Brazil and Peru.