The festival of South American football that is the Copa America is up and running in Chile, and the early stages of the tournament certainly haven’t disappointed so far – we’ve had shock results, mass brawls and six-goal thrillers.
The competition also comes at a convenient time for Premier League teams looking to do some business in the summer transfer window, and while the presence of the usual South American superstars goes without saying, there are also a few hidden gems participating this year whose lower profiles compared to the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Sergio Aguero could represent an attractive option for top-flight clubs looking to strengthen this summer.
Here are five players in particular you should look out for…
Bacca enjoyed a hugely successful season for Sevilla last year, scoring 28 goals in all competitions including a brace against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the Europa League final as the Spanish side clinched the trophy for the fourth time in nine years.
Joining Los Rojiblancos in 2013, the Colombian was voted by Marca as the best signing of the 2013–14 La Liga season and was named the season’s best player from the Americas, ahead of both Ángel Di María and Neymar.
Although the 28-year-old has a tendency to lose his temper – he was sent off in a mass brawl between Colombia and Brazil on Wednesday – he is a proven goalscorer and would be a fine addition to arguably any one of the Premier League’s top six clubs.
Physical and strong in the air, Rondon provided the first shock of this year’s tournament as his headed goal for the unfancied Venezuela sank Colombia in their opening group game.
Only 25 years of age, Rondon made his debut in the Venezuelan first division at 17 and has since gone on to play in the Spanish and Russian top flights, scoring goals on a regular basis in each one.
It is his experience and ability to adapt to different styles of play in different countries that makes him an attractive option for Premier League sides, where his strength could see him become an even more successful striker.
23-year-old Murillo only recently signed for Italian side Inter Milan from Granada, but the Colombian centre-back has already impressed at the Copa America. Despite starting in the shock opening loss to Venezuela, Murillo redeemed himself in fine style by scoring the only goal in a famous win over Brazil in their second game, giving his country a decent chance to progress to the knockout stages of the tournament.
While still young and clearly still developing his game – he very nearly cancelled out his goal with a shocking backpass that Brazil’s Roberto Firmino contrived to blast over the bar – Murillo has potential.
The 2013/14 La Liga season saw him emerge as a regular fixture in the Granada backline which shows that he can cut it in the big leagues, and if the right bid comes in, Inter Milan – very much a fallen giant having finished last season in eighth – may have to sell.
One for the big teams to keep an eye on. Gimenez is just 20 years old but is already making a name for himself at Atletico Madrid, with his finest moment for the Spanish side coming when he scored a header against Real Madrid in last season’s Copa del Rey.
The youngster is also highly-rated by Uruguay coach Oscar Taberez, having already earned 18 caps for his country despite his tender years. Atletico can rightly be considered a European force these days and they are unlikely to want to sell one of their brightest prospects, but the team from the Vicente Calderon are known to do business if the price is right, especially with Premier League champions Chelsea.
Gimenez is bound to be high on the list of any of the top six English clubs looking to build a strong backline for the future.
Born in Barking, Barnes decided to represent Jamaica at international level, gaining eligibility through his grandparents.
The 26-year-old started out at Derby County as a highly promising attacker but a succession of serious injuries led to release.
Two unsuccessful spells at West Bromwich Albion and Doncaster Rovers followed, before he decided to cross the pond and join Houston Dynamo in the MLS. Lady luck has been much more kind to Barnes in America than in England, and after three successful years at the Dynamo, hitting double figures in the past two campaigns, he may feel the time is right to make a return.
The forward would represent a wise signing for any of the newly-promoted top-flight clubs.