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HomeSportsCopa América 2024 best XI: Colombia outshine Argentina, Ecuador

Copa América 2024 best XI: Colombia outshine Argentina, Ecuador

Luis Miguel Echegaray

As we near a conclusion to the 2024 Copa América with Sunday’s final between Argentina and Colombia in Miami, Luis Miguel Echegaray shares his best XI from this summer’s competition.

From players with consistently impressive performances to renaissance accomplishments, here is LME’s team of the tournament in a 4-3-3 formation.

Selecting just one stopper from this particular edition of Copa América was never going to be an easy task because the chaotic nature of this tournament often brings out multiple moments of goalkeeping brilliance. But in the end, Martínez deserves the nod and it’s for a few reasons.

First, let’s look at the fact that he had the best clean sheet percentage in the tournament. In addition, Argentina did not concede a goal in the group stage and only conceded one leading up to the final. When he was called upon, Martínez was there to save the World Cup champions who had not been at their best. His save percentage (90%) was the best of any team’s goalkeeper who made it out of the group stages. In the quarterfinal, if Argentina were honest with themselves, they would admit that Ecuador should have won that game before penalties and the main reason why they secured a final four place is not because of Lionel Messi, but Martínez, who was remarkable in the shootout, echoing what he did in the previous Copa América and the World Cup final against France in Qatar.

In the semifinal against Canada, he played a relatively quiet encounter until the very end when the Concacaf team knocked on the door, but once again he delivered a great save with his feet. It was his fourth clean sheet. But here’s the main reason why he wins my vote: At this particular Copa América, when the chips are down for Argentina and the World Cup champions look for leadership, it’s not just Messi they are currently searching for. It’s their goalkeeper, who is always ready.

Let me just begin by saying that despite Muňoz’s mindless red card against Uruguay, I am still giving him this award because he was outstanding overall this tournament. It’s a reminder that the best, most under-the-radar piece of business from last season in the Premier League was Crystal Palace‘s acquisition of the 28-year-old Colombian, who was playing for Genk before his move to south London.

Quite simply, Muñoz was magnificent for Colombia until the terrible lapse of judgment when he decided to elbow Uruguayan Manuel Ugarte on Wednesday night. Regardless, he is a main factor why the finalists are one of the best teams in the international game right now, never mind South America. Before his sending off, Muñoz was in the top three for tackles won (per FBREF) and top four when you combine interceptions.

However, his game doesn’t end there; he is also an offensive machine with two goals and an assist. He is more than statistics, too, as it’s his incredible work rate that impresses. On their way to the final, Muñoz covered so much ground for Los Cafeteros that manager Néstor Lorenzo didn’t have to worry about the right wing. Muňoz is arguably the best right back in the Americas, and it’s a massive shame one moment ruined the conclusion to his time at Copa América. Nevertheless, he belongs in this lineup because Colombia’s path to the final doesn’t happen without him.

Messi calls Romero the world’s best defender and despite his bias, it’s worthy of a discussion. Romero is not just one of the best tacklers and key players when it comes to anticipating danger, but he also handles one of the most valuable responsibilities for Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina, which is carrying the ball forward and allowing his team to settle.

This has been particularly important in this tournament where Argentina have not been as offensively impressive as in previous tournaments. At the time of writing, Romero leads the competition in carries (238) and passes completed (285), and that’s with him being rested in the last group game. He is critical in his team’s buildup play. But it’s also about his presence and partnership alongside Lisandro Martínez that makes for one of the best walls that any goalkeeper could have.

If Argentina are to win Copa América back-to-back, “Cuti” Romero’s leadership will be needed.

The 22-year-old is reportedly on the radar of the biggest teams in Europe and the Premier League, and honestly, I don’t see him with Eintracht Frankfurt that much longer. Pacho had nearly 10 clearances per match in the group stage, which was the best by any center back. He was a main reason why Ecuador pushed Argentina to PKs. Pacho, who is a product of the highly respected academy from Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle, is wise beyond his years. He reads the game so well and delivered some great MOTM performances, including in the vital win against México.

At 21, he showed a lot of maturity in his first Copa América. The Real Sociedad man led in tackles in the final third (20), the combination of tackles and interceptions (30) and was third in blocks (8) at the time of writing. La Vinotinto have a good wing-back in their roster, one who could become a formidable force and a major impact toward their objective of qualifying for their first-ever World Cup in 2026. It was his assist for Salomón Rondón‘s chipped goal against Canada, as well as multiple clearances and 11 tackles in what was a wild matchup, despite losing on penalties.

Whenever Ecuador played in this tournament, there were times that I thought I was watching two Caicedos on the pitch. The Chelsea midfielder was everywhere. Leading as a box-to-box threat, he was imposing and despite being only 22 years old, he showed once again why he’s a leader in this young, dynamic Ecuadorian side.

He ended the tournament sixth in tackles (17) and only one midfielder did better, Uruguay’s Manuel Ugarte, who is also in my list. But Caicedo did one better over Ugarte when it came to tackling dribblers heading towards his goal, leading any offensive player in the competition.

But the biggest strength to his game, and why he is highly regarded, is because he is the soccer equivalent of a Pro Bowl safety in the NFL. Caicedo intercepted almost everything that came his way as he co-led the tournament in this category (10). Against Argentina, facing his Chelsea teammate Enzo Fernández, it was Caicedo who had a much better performance, and Ecuador should have won that game in regular time.

This might just be the best story of Copa América because what coach Néstor Lorenzo and the federation have done for Rodríguez (the once-shining star of Real Madrid who turned into a journeyman across Europe plagued by injuries) is incredible.

Earlier in the year, the 32-year-old star reportedly asked his national team manager for guidance and help as he was finding no luck with his new team Sao Paulo. Fast forward to this competition and thanks to much mental and nutritional help, James became a Renaissance man. A goal and six assists (He leads the tournament for goal involvements.) are an example of his productivity and his new role, which sees him as more of an architect and creator. Los Cafeteros have been wonderful and, in many ways, the best team of the tournament because of how many chances they create. That’s all down to their captain, who leads Copa in crosses and goal- and shot- creating actions.

To me, Rodríguez doesn’t just belong in this Best XI, he is the tournament’s MVP.



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You know those scenes when Dr. Bruce Banner turns into the Incredible Hulk? It’s the same when Ugarte plays for Uruguay, and that’s saying something because La Celeste are full of warriors all over the pitch. If you’re talking about consistency and solidity in the midfield, that’s Ugarte, who leads the competition in tackles as a midfielder and is second in interceptions.

But the thing about the 23-year-old from PSG — who is reportedly wanted by many clubs in Europe including Manchester United — is that his impact for the national team can’t always be determined by statistics. He was the heart and lungs of Marcelo Bielsa’s side, especially when things were not going their way. Yes, Federico Valverde is their leader and star, but Ugarte is the engine who doesn’t stop.

Creatively, he is impactful too with a 88% pass completion rating. It’s actually astonishing that he is only 23 because when you watch his work on the pitch, it feels as if you’re seeing someone who has been around the game for many decades. Every youth player around the globe who wishes to be a midfielder needs to watch Ugarte, who was so close to helping Uruguay reach the final.

Venezuela bowed out of the competition in the quarterfinal stages after losing on penalties to Canada. But we have to remember that in order to get there in the first place, they won their group, which included Jamaica, Ecuador and México, in perfect fashion (3 wins). This was spearheaded by the 34-year-old bonafide leader and the nation’s all-time scorer Rondón, who was taking part in his fifth Copa América.

At the time of writing, he is the second top scorer of the competition with three goals, which included an audacious 40-yard screamer against the Canadians when he found the Canadian keeper Maxime Crépeau out of his line. But it’s not just about his goals. Rondón is a force in the air, winning seven of his eight aerial duels and taking the third-most shots on target. Like Vinotinto, Rondón ages like a fine wine when he plays for his national team.

Canada’s debut in the Copa was made out of Jesse Marsch’s do-or-die approach, and if there was a player who benefited from it, it was the 24-year-old who plays for Nashville SC and is a headache against any fullback. Shaffelburg scored the opener against Venezuela and won multiple duels throughout. He also delivered a great opportunity for Alphonso Davies that didn’t end up as a goal.

Against Argentina, when Canada were pushing at the start of the encounter, it was Shaffelburg who gave defender Gonzalo Montiel a lot to think about. You want more proof? He was third in the entire tournament in crosses in the penalty area and his 18 touches in the penalty box were only behind Darwin Núňez.

Let’s forget numbers for a second. The best thing about Shaffelburg is that there is a grit to his game, and he showed up during a time when Canada are in transition under a new coach. They were entering alien territory, and the fact that they made it to the semifinal stages — the only Concacaf nation to do so — was a remarkable achievement.

There are some players who defy any kind of statistical reference, and it’s not because they don’t have anything to show. For example, the Liverpool attacker has 2 goals, 6 key passes (the most out of anyone at the tournament) and a 96% in non-penalty expected goals.

Díaz, who became the third-highest scorer for Colombia at Copa América, is the ultimate definition of South American football. His flair is a perfect complement to his hard work, and it was evident on Wednesday night against Uruguay when he had to carry the sole responsibility of leading the front line after Muñoz’s red card in the first half.

It was a team effort, but Díaz worked endlessly to protect his team’s lead. Here’s the other thing about Díaz: he’s multidimensional, because when you compare him to any other player in his position, he either leads or is one of the top for carries, possession, dribbling, crossing and ball recoveries. Liverpool’s new boss Arne Slot is about to have so much fun with him, but the Dutch manager better pay a visit to Colombia coach Lorenzo and get some advice, because he has turned Díaz into a Swiss Army knife.

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