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There may have been plenty of occasions, particularly over recent years, where European clubs have asked their South American players not to play in it, or the players themselves have withdrawn, or entire teams have refused to take part, but there's still been more than enough quality and drama over the years to draw up a healthy list of players who have done more than most to try and land the Copa America trophy for their nation. Here's our top ten...
Here's our top ten...
The first time the tournament had been played for 8 years, and its first under the new name of the Copa America saw a genuine legend of the game, defender Hector Chumpitaz, help inspire Peru to a famous victory, their first since 1939. There was no fixed venue for the tournament, which meant 3 months of home and away matches leading up to a 3 legged final. Peru started their group matches against Chile and Bolivia with a draw but 3 subsequent victories saw them ease into the semi-finals. And whilst Peru's most famous footballing son Teofilo Cubilas and striker Juan Carlos Oblitas were taking most of the plaudits for their attacking power, it was widely recognised that Hector Chumpitaz and his fellow defenders were the rock on which the team were built. Indeed, Peru named the same back four of Chumpitaz, Soria, Melendez and Diaz for the entire tournament. The opening leg of the semi-final, played in Belo Horizonte, saw Chumpitaz and his defence defend doggedly, against a barrage of Brazilian attacks, before Cubilas and Casaretto grabbed late goals to see Peru snatch a famous 3:1 victory. However, the return leg in Lima, and an unfortunate early own goal from Melendez put Peru on the back foot, and when Brazil went level on aggregate near the start of the 2nd half they were expected to go on and take their place in the final. However, an incredible 30 minute rear guard performance from Chumpitaz and Melendez meant the tie ended 3:3 on aggregate. And then for some Peruvian luck. These were the days when drawn games were occasionally decided by the toss of a coin, or drawing lots, which was the case here as Peru got the luck they deserved and headed into the final against Colombia. Brazil left with nothing. Despite losing the first leg 1:0, a great display in the 2nd leg in Lima saw them win 2:0 before the country's other footballing legend, Hugo "El Cholo" Sotil, scored the winner in the neutral leg in Caracas. It was the Barcelona star's only appearance of the championship, with the club reluctant to let him travel. But despite El Cholo's impact, it was another fantastic Chumpitaz display that was at the heart of the win, commanding his defence to another clean-sheet and to Peru's first South America Championship for 36 years.
Legend has it that Francescoli was so good that he inspired Zinedine Zidane to give up a promising career in France's top Petanque league in order to take up football, and even named his son after him. Francescoli certainly stood head and shoulders above the other members of the Uruguayan teams of the 80's and 90's, owing much to the fact that 'the Prince' seemed more bothered about trying to beat the opposition rather than trying to clobber the living daylights out of them. Uruguay were hosting the tournament and their opener in their national stadium, the fortress that is the Centenario in Montevideo, saw them coast to a 2:0 lead against perennial whipping boys Venezuela. Deployed in a midfield role alongside Gus Poyet and Gutierrez, Francescoli was allowed to pull the attacking strings as the rest of the midfield worked like mad to supply him with enough ball for him to do some damage. However, when Luis Dolguetta pulled one back early in the 2nd half the atmosphere changed and it was left to Francescoli to restore the 2 goal lead by stroking home a penalty 15 minutes from time. The 2nd group game, against Paraguay, saw Francescoli, aided by Roma star Daniel "the Beaver" Fonseca, torment the Paraguayan defence with some sublime touches and movement, but Francescoli's early goal was all they had to show for their dominance and they ended the game defensively, protecting their slender lead. The 33 year old Francescoli was rested from the final group game and returned for the quarter final against Bolivia, whose defensive tactics backfired as Francescoli, Fonseca and Otero proceeded to rip them apart, racing into a 2:0 lead in the opening half hour. Francescoli's probing continued to wreak havoc amongst the Bolivian defence, but with Fonseca going off injured they lacked a real cutting edge up front, and when the Bolivians pulled a goal back with 20 minutes to go the Centenario was forced to see out a nerve-racking ending. Fonseca's injury meant that Francescoli was pushed forward into a striker's role for the semi final against Colombia, and whilst this meant that Carlos Valderrama and Freddy Rincon initially dominated the game, Francescoli's clever link play started to open up the Colombian defence and he was involved in the Adinolfi and Otero goals that took the hosts into the final. With Fonseca back for the final against pre-tournament favourites Brazil, Francescoli reverted back into midfield. A packed Centenario fancied their chances - in 37 Copa America games played in Montevideo they'd not lost a single game. An incredible record that they didn't fancy losing. With Fonseca only lasting half the game, it was again left to Francescoli to provide the main attacking threat, but with the Brazilians strong all over the pitch and taking a 1:0 lead, the Uruguayans were happy to end the game level after substitute Bengoechea grabbed a 2nd half equaliser. Francescoli dispatched the first penalty in the shoot out and then stood back as everyone bar Brazil's Tulio was successful. The championship turned out to be Francescoli's international tournament swansong, but winning the Copa America on home turf, and against Brazil, was not a bad way to go out.
The South American player of the year in 1985, Romerito first came to prominence 6 years before in the 1979 tournament. An inventive midfielder, bursting with attacking options and flair, Romerito was only 18 when the tournament kicked off, but had grown into a star by the end of it. Despite playing in the 2:0 win over Ecuador, he was used mainly as an early 2nd half substitute in the opening group stages, as Paraguay topped their group ahead of Uruguay and Ecuador to progress through to a semi-final against a Brazilian team featuring the likes of Falcao, Socrates and Eder. Romerito, all neat passes and attacking thrusts, helped the team edge the first leg of the semi 2:1 in Asuncion. Then in the 2nd leg in the Maracana, with Brazil leading 2:1, he grabbed the equaliser that took the Paraguayans through 4:3 on aggregate a fantastic result given the opposition. And so on to a final against Chile. Bizarrely, with the Copa America in a phase where it was being played not just in one single host country but as home and away affairs, the final was actually over 3 legs, with the 3rd one played on a neutral venue, in this case Buenos Aires, and the last leg was taking place nearly 5 months after the tournament had kicked off. Romerito played a blinder in the opening home leg in Asuncion, scoring twice and looking like he could open up the Chilean defence every time he got on the ball, as Paraguay won 3:0. That proved to the the killer leg, as Chile could only claim a 1:0 victory in Santiago and then Romerito and Kiese controlled the final leg in Buenos Aires, although they were unable to add to there 3:1 aggregate. Romerito was acclaimed a hero back in his homeland along with the Morel brothers, Eugenio and Milciades, whose goals had also played a key part in their country's first South American championship triumph since 1953. Romerito played for Sportivo Luqueno at the time but later moved to Brazilian club Fluminense, becoming a legend amongst the Tricolores as he helped lead them to the Campeonato Brasileiro in 1984.
When Argentina and Canada withdrew before the start of the 2001 tournament in Colombia on the grounds of security reasons, CONMEBOL had to hastily arrange for a couple of last minute replacements. Canada had already indicated that they wouldn't play, so Costa Rica were already primed to take their place, but Argentina pulled out right at the last minute following death threats to some members of their squad. The only country the federation could get at such late notice was Honduras, and they arrived two days after the tournament had already begun and only hours before their opening game against Costa Rica, with a thread-bare squad that just about amounted to a starting XI. Amado Guevara was the team's captain, and its playmaker. Nicknamed El Lobo (the Wolf), he was a player of unquestioned skill and vision, but whose lack of discipline often let him down. The Central American minnows lost their 1st game against Costa Rica to a Paulo Wanchope strike on the hour mark. Guevara played well, but the Honduran's forward line of Suazo and Martinez struggled against a strong Costa Rican defence. Their 2nd game against Bolivia was different. Guevara dictated the pace from start to finish and provided a steady stream of quality opportunities to Leon and Martinez. An explosive 2nd half saw Guevara put the Hondurans ahead after 53 minutes before sliding home a 2nd 15 minutes later. The Hondurans celebrated as if they'd just won the trophy whilst Bolivia lost the plot with 2 quick red cards. So Guevara and his team went into the last game against Uruguay in the Atansio Girardot Stadium knowing that a win would book their place in the quarter finals. A typical clash with the tough Uruguayans meant Guevara had less opportunity to weave his magic, particularly with the strikers struggling up front. The game entered the last ten minutes goalless but another sending off for the Uruguayans put them down to 9 men and the Hondurans surged forward. With just 4 minutes remaining the unthinkable happened - Guevara struck the winner to book their place in the quarter finals and a clash with Big Phil Scolari's Brazil. The Brazilians were criticised before the game for not taking the opposition seriously, and for lacking respect, as players were pictured pointing at maps, scratching their heads, pretending not to know where Honduras was. They were soon regretting it as Guevara and his attack controlled the game from the start. The Honudurans seemed to want it more, and technically they looked superior. Guevara was directing traffic and just before the hour he released Leon for a mazy run down the wing before his cross was turned in off Brazilian defender Belletti. The Brazilians tried to exert some pressure of their own, but the Hondurans held out and 4 minutes into stoppage time more probing from Guevara resulted in a Martinez goal, and one of the biggest shocks in Copa America history was complete. Back in Argentina, the Honduran's victory was celebrated almost as if the Argentinians themselves had done it. Unfortunately, the semi-final game against host nation Colombia in Manizales was a game too far. Backed by a partisan crowd, the Colombians laid siege on the Honduras goal from the first whistle and were one up after just 6 minutes. The Hondurans somehow managed to keep it at just 1:0 for the rest of the half and Guevara started to have an impact after the break, coming agonisingly close from a free kick and providing the front men with a couple of gilt-edged chances. But a fine half came to nothing as Aristizabal grabbed the host's 2nd. The dream was over. Well almost - Guevara lead his side to a 3rd place play-off victory over Uruguay, and was named player of the tournament.
Aristizabal retired from international football during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, disillusioned with the national team set-up and claiming that when he played and the team lost he got the blame, yet when he was dropped everyone wanted him back. In 2001 there was no such problems, as his goals blasted host nation Colombia to a famous victory in a controversial tournament. He started off by slotting home a penalty in the opening group match against Venezuela. He then grabbed the winner against Ecuador in a scrappy affair at the Estadio Metropolitano. And when Aristizabal tucked home another penalty in the last group match against Chile the Colombian team were heading into the quarters with a 100% record. The quarter final against Peru in Armenia's smaller Centenario stadium started off quietly, but with the game still goalless at half time it suddenly exploded into life with the hosts racing into a 3:0 lead in the space of 20 minutes, Aristizabal scoring 2 of them, the first lashed home after a poor clearance and the 2nd a deader from Freddy Grisales great cross. The semi had been expected to be against Brazil, but following the incredible victory by last minute entrants Honduras the hosts lined up in Palogrande as clear favourites to reach their first final since 1975. Colombia were not about to make the same mistakes as Emerson and co. and backed by a partisan crowd, they set about Honduras in a frenzied start with Aristizabal and Murillo carving out chance after chance that resulted in a 5th minute lead from a thunderous drive from Bedoya. The Colombians continued to dominate the game with Aristizabal the focal point of all their attacking play, coming close with a couple of shots and dangerous runs before getting his reward on the hour with a sweet half volley. Aristizabal, the hero of the first 5 games, now faced a Mexican team missing several key players, such as Rafael Marquez, through injury and suspension. And he started the game as he'd played the rest of the tournament - causing mayhem in the opposition defence with some weaving runs, 2 close penalty appeals, an incredible 45 yard effort, and a strike against the post. And all this in the opening 30 minutes. Sadly, that was to be his lot in the final, a hamstring injury after half an hour forcing him off and depriving him of finishing what he'd started. Colombian skipper Ivan Cordoba eventually claimed the winner in front of an ecstatic Bogota crowd but it was Aristizabal who was acclaimed the hero. With more than a third of his national goal tally scored in this one tournament, it genuinely was his finest hour.
Forget the 2006 World Cup version that looked like he couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo, the 2004 Adriano was a man at the top of his game, his deadly left foot banging in goals for fun for both the national team and Internazionale. It's been said that he looks happier as the focal point of the team, which was definitely the case in Germany as the Brazilian attack was more trout quintet than magic quartet. But back in 2004 there was no such problem as coach Parreira agreed to rest the majority of his 2002 World Cup winning team, and they kicked off their group stage against Chile with a largely inexperienced side, Adriano paired up front with Sao Paulo's Luis Fabiano. With the game looking like it was going to end in stalemate Fabiano headed home a corner two minutes into injury time. The 2nd game against Costa Rica saw Adriano grab a hat-trick, tricking the keeper just before half-time before adding another two at the start of the 2nd half as Brazil crushed them 4:1. Brazil lost their final game to Paraguay but had already qualified for the quarters, a game against 2001 runners up Mexico. Adriano had his best game of the tournament, he was brought down for the penalty that led to the opener, then scored twice in the 2nd half and turned provider for Oliveira's late back heeler. The Mexicans simply couldn't cope with his pace and power and Brazil romped into the semis, where the hard men of Uruguay lay in wait. The Uruguayans took a deserved 1st half lead in Lima but Brazil came flying out of the blocks in the 2nd half, Adriano turning in Luis Fabiano's cross cum shot and then coming desperately close with 2 more left foot efforts. Uruguay somehow managed to hold out for the penalty shoot out but were sent packing as Brazil tucked home all 5, and Julio Cesar managed to save Sanchez's effort. The final in Lima pitted Brazil against great rivals Argentina, the first time the two had met in an actual one-off final since a play-off decider back in 1937. And it was worth the wait as a classic final saw Adriano rescue Brazil with a leveller 3 minutes into injury time after Cesar Delgado looked like he'd won it for Argentina with an 87th minute goal. It was Adriano's 7th goal in the tournament and made him top scorer by a country mile. He scored again in the shoot out with Brazil only needing 4 penalties this time as D'Alessandro and Gabriel Heinze missed for Argentina. "This is the greatest moment in my career" said a jubilant Adriano afterwards, and after the debacle in Germany 2006, it may remain so for a while yet.
Sanchez was one of Bolivia's best known footballers before the country hosted the 1997 Copa America, his move to Portuguese giants Benfica in 1990 making him the country's first player to make it big in Europe. Three years before the tournament Bolivia had qualified for the World Cup in America and Sanchez, along with Marco Etcheverry, had made a decent impression. So when the Copa America kicked off the Bolivian public had high hopes of some relative success. They were not to be disappointed. Sanchez, nicknamed 'Platini' for his great passing and vision, was brought on as a sub in all three of the opening phase matches, as Bolivia flew through their group with victories over Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. However, his second half appearances had a big impact on the attacking side of the team, and by the time of the quarter final against Colombia in La Paz he'd been restored to the starting line-up. And he grasped the opportunity, playing a part in Etcheverry's opener before slotting home a second midway through the first half. Colombia pulled one back but the Bolivians moved through to a semi against Mexico. Despite playing in a deeper role, Sanchez scored again and was influential in everything the Bolivians did, as they went through 3:1 in an ill-tempered game that saw both managers sent to the stands and Mexico reduced to 9 players. Bolivia met Brazil in the final, with the country hoping that this would be the first success since their only title back in 1963. And when Sanchez equalised Edmundo's opener, the fanatical support inside the Estadio Hernando Siles started to believe once more. However, this was a strong Brazilian side, featuring the likes of Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Dunga, Denilson, Leonardo and Ronaldo, and despite the best efforts of Sanchez his dreams ended in the final 10 minutes as Ronaldo and Ze Roberto struck to take the trophy back to Brazil.
It's 1993, and Ecuador host the Copa America for the first time since 1959, when it finished its highest tournament position of 4th. To say the public were hardly expectant was an understatement, with the team previously struggling to make any impact against the other teams. But salvation came in the form of a bustling striker, known as El Tanque, quite literally "the Tank", a reference to Eduardo Hurtado's unorthodox style of play and his size - 6 foot 4 tall and nearly as wide. Ecuador kicked the tournament off in Quito against Venezuela and La Vinotinto's defence had no answer to Hurtado's power as he literally steam-rolled all over them, scoring one and setting up a couple as the hosts kicked off with an amazing 6:1 victory. Ecuador had the advantage of the altitude factor - with their games being played at the Olimpico Atahualpa, standing at nearly 9000 feet above sea-level, it was something most of the opposition weren't used to. Next up to face Hurtado was the United States, tournament invitees, and a team who'd just started to make an impression on the world stage. However, no matter how cool Alexei Lalas thought he was with his fancy goatee, he was unable to cope with either the altitude or Hurtado, as El Tanque ran them ragged and scored the second in a 2:0 win. Their surprising 100 percent start was maintained with a victory over group favourites Uruguay, and all of a sudden the country started to believe they could achieve something. Another full house in the Atahualpa saw Hurtado and strike partner Aviles combine twice to comfortable see off Paraguay 3:0 and set up a semi-final show down with the tournaments other invitee, Mexico. However, with many of the Mexicans used to the high altitude in their own league, Ecuador's primary advantage had gone, and with Hurtado unable to have the same impact as the previous games Hugo Sanchez and his team ran out 2:0 winners. Hurtado had made a real name for himself amongst his fellow countrymen, and later went on to become one of the first stars of the MLS. He also had a spell with Hibernian alongside fellow countryman Ulises de la Cruz, but whilst de la Cruz successfully moved into the Premiership, Hurtado had a torrid time, scoring only 2 goals before returning to South America.
1991 saw 22 year old Boca Juniors star Gabriel Batistuta named in his first tournament squad, for the Copa America in Chile. Coach Alfio Basile named Batistuta as Claudio Caniggia's partner in the opening game and he instantly repaid him with two goals as they coasted home against Venezuela. A tricky game against the host nation in the following match looked all set for a draw until Batistuta finished off a fine move with just 10 minutes remaining to seal the points. The youngster was again on target against Paraguay, grabbing the opener as they booked their place in the final pool with an emphatic 4:1 victory. Both Batistuta and Caniggia were rested for last group game against Peru, and they went through as group winners along with great rivals Brazil, hosts Chile and the highly rated Colombians. Batistuta was back alongside Caniggia for an incredible battle against great rivals Brazil, a game which saw 5 goals, 5 fights, 5 players sent off (including Caniggia), and a whole host of bookings. Batistuta grabbed the all important final goal as they held out 3:2 for an (in)famous victory, a modern day Battle of Santiago. With Caniggia suspended for the next game against Chile, Batistuta was less effective than in the previous games and the match ended goalless. However, other results dictated that they went into the final game against Colombia knowing that a win would land them the title, and with Caniggia back alongside him Batistuta was back to his lethal best, banging in the 2nd as they stormed into a 2:0 lead. The Colombians pulled one back but they were not to deny Argentina claiming their 1st Copa America title since 1959 and Batistuta his first international honour. He finished the tournament as top scorer with 6 goals, and his form throughout it was enough to persuade Fiorentina to sign him, a move that would eventually earn him legendary status with the Viola.
With Emerson providing a solid base and Ronaldo, or the goal, the target of his creativity, Rivaldo quite literally ran the show in the 1999 tournament. Having established himself at Barcelona as one of the modern greats, he arrived at the Paraguayan tournament still searching for his first trophy for the national team. And with the way the team started, particularly Rivaldo, it looked like they meant business. At his mercurial best in the opener against Venezuela, he scored the final goal and had a role in a handful of others as they drubbed the hapless Vinotintos 7:0. His fine form continued as Brazil beat Mexico, although with less than ten minutes to go he was sent off. Coach Wanderley Luxemburgo shuffled his midfield for the final group game against Chile as Brazil comfortably marched into the quarter finals, where the rested Barcelona star had another blinder, scoring the equaliser on the half hour mark and causing Argentina constant headaches with his range of passing, tricks and bursts from the centre, as they went on to beat their great rivals 2:1. In the semi-final they comfortably beat Mexico, often a tricky opponent for the Brazilians, 2:0, with Rivaldo getting the 2nd just before half-time. The final against Uruguay in Asuncion started quietly before bursting into life as Rivaldo weighed in with two goals in 7 minutes half way through the first half. Ronaldo made it 3 just after half time and it could have been more, Rivaldo at times leading the young Uruguayan team a merry dance, and despite not scoring any more, he finished the tournament as joint top scorer alongside Ronaldo.