Ederson, Dybala, Neymar: Best XI not at 2024 Copa América

Once a tournament gets started, it can appear to encompass the whole world. Like Huckleberry Finn and his raft, everything and everyone worth finding can be sighted inside the competition. In the immediate build-up, though, there is still time to dwell on those who, for one reason or another, have been excluded from the party.

This, in a vague 3-3-2-2 formation, is a team of “Missing Men” from the 2024 Copa América, a side of players who could be in the United States if it were not for injury or big decisions made by the coach.


GOALKEEPER

Ederson (Brazil)

The Manchester City keeper with the howitzer left foot played the decisive games of the last Copa back in 2021. But now, he has been back up to Alisson for most of the seven years he has been playing for Brazil, including the last two FIFA World Cups.

With new coach Dorival Júnior taking charge, this could have been Ederson’s chance to start a fresh cycle as first choice. He was named in the squad — but was forced out after suffering a small fracture to the eye socket against Tottenham in the last week of the Premier League season.

DEFENDERS

Gary Medel (Chile)

Age is not an issue for new Chile coach Ricardo Gareca. He has recalled some of the old guard who won those Copas back in 2015 and 2016. But while doing that he has also left out Medel, the little pit bull who graduated from Chile’s fine Under-20 side in 2007 as a midfielder and was converted by coach Marcelo Bielsa into a gutsy centre-back. Medel has played for his country more than 160 times, but this could be the end.

Robert Arboleda (Ecuador)

A quick and combative centre-back, Arboleda has been part of the Ecuador squad for eight years — not always as first choice, but included in the group whenever he was fit. He went to the Qatar World Cup and the three previous Copas. However, he is not going to this one — a move universally interpreted as a punishment. During the March FIFA dates, Arboleda and winger Gonzalo Plata (also excluded) took the then 16-year-old Kendry Paez to a New York nightclub. Coach Felix Sanchez Bas was not impressed.

Pervis Estupiñán (Ecuador)

Ecuador have dispensed with the services of Arboleda, but they would love to have Estupiñán available. The left-sided Brighton & Hove Albion defender has been ruled out by an ankle injury, and may also struggle to return in time for the World Cup qualifiers later this year. This is a real blow. His charges down the flank and his ferocious left foot are important for Ecuador, and they do not appear to have a substitute.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS

Casemiro (Brazil)

Seen by one of Brazil’s previous coaches as the team’s competitive leader, Casemiro has been anchoring the midfield for almost eight years and has often been captaining the side. His second season with Manchester United proved desperately disappointing, though, with the player frequently struggling for pace. Meanwhile, a new generation of Brazilian central midfielders have emerged, allowing head coach Dorival Junior to conclude that he could do without the 32-year-old Casemiro.

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Why Uruguay can be ‘trouble’ for USMNT in Copa America

Herculez Gomez analyses Uruguay’s style of play ahead of the Copa America and their USMNT match-up in the tournament.

Matías Vecino (Uruguay)

Playing for national teams in South America is considered such an honour that it is rare for players to announce their own retirement while they remain in contention for a place. That is what Vecino recently did, at the relatively young age of 32. For the past eight years, he has been anchoring the Uruguayan midfield. But he announced recently that his time was over, perhaps disheartened by losing his place in the first team to Manuel Ugarte.

Arturo Vidal (Chile)

A force of nature — sometimes a blizzard of rage — in the Chile midfield since 2007, Vidal has not been called up to this Copa. There is still a place for Alexis Sánchez — his partner in Chile’s golden era and perhaps his rival for dressing room supremacy. Vidal’s return to South America, first in Brazil and then back where it all started at Colo Colo, has not been a glowing success, with injury problems and inconsistent form. It will still be strange to see Chile go into a tournament without him.

ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

Paulo Dybala (Argentina)

Coach Lionel Scaloni confessed that it was a tough decision for him to leave Dybala out of his Copa America squad. Then again, in the course of almost 40 matches over nine years, the Roma attacking midfielder has seldom if ever reproduced anything like his club form in an Argentina shirt. Injuries have not helped, and he may have been plain unfortunate, but Dybala has also acknowledged that he has not found it easy to dovetail with Lionel Messi — and his exclusion would also seem to imply that Scaloni does not see Dybala as a long-term Messi replacement.

Neymar (Brazil)

A serious injury sustained on international duty last year keeps Neymar out of the Copa. Will he be able to get back in? It is one of the key questions swirling around this Brazil campaign — because part of the answer has nothing to do with Neymar. If his young forwards rise to the occasion, then coach Dorival Junior might not see any need to recall the man who last year overtook Pelé to become Brazil’s all-time top scorer.

Early in his career, Neymar clashed with his coach at Santos — who ended up losing his job as a consequence. That coach was Dorival Junior. Will there be new chapters in their relationship?

STRIKERS

Richarlison (Brazil)

Richarlison was a part of Brazil’s squad until the morning of the call-up — when he suffered an injury in training at Tottenham and was replaced by Evanilson of Porto. This was a real blow for a player who has not always found it easy to justify his £60 million ($75.7m) transfer fee at Tottenham, but who has been a consistent marksman for his country, attacking the space in the penalty area and rounding off the moves launched by Neymar or the talented wingers. With teenage sensation Endrick doing so well, there is no guarantee that Richarlison will return as Brazil’s first-choice centre-forward.

Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)

Head coach Marcelo Bielsa has been carrying out a rebuilding project with Uruguay, and has not found room for Cavani, the national team’s all-time second-top scorer. When he learned that he was not in consideration for the Copa squad, Cavani announced his retirement from international football, bringing to a close a career that has included four World Cups and five versions of the Copa.

He puts in so much work that he might almost be seen as a box-to-box striker, and when he was behind both Luis Suárez and Diego Forlan in the hierarchy, he was happy to put in an unselfish shift on the left wing. This is the first time since the 2007 Copa that Uruguay go into a major competition without him.