We've reached the final stage of the 2017 Copa Libertadores. Gremio hold a 1-0 advantage over Lanus from the first leg, and the teams will renew battle next Wednesday to determine who will be crowned kings of South America.
The Copa is a competition that sheds light on some of the continent's finest stars and stages the earlier developmental years of some of the best in the world. Neymar was plying his trade with Santos in the Copa Libertadores six years ago; he lifted the trophy after helping his side beat Penarol in the final.
The Brazilian and Argentinian leagues are seen as the traditional powerhouses on the continent, but there are some good teams and interesting talents hailing from the likes of Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, too. They're all worth keeping on an eye as we head into the new year.
We've picked out 20 stars from this year's tournament who look ready and able to make the transition to Europe in 2018. They come in various stages of stardom and development, with the finest players and prospects found later down the list.
Dario Aimar, CB, 22
Barcelona SC (Ecuador)
A defender who loves defending? It's a dying breed, but Aimar's doing his best to bring them back.
You wouldn't label him a cultured operator or a particularly smooth passer of the ball—though he does have his moments, launching attacks from deep. Aimar's trade is clearances, blocks and getting a vital toe on things. Some managers will be put off by his limitations; others will see an ideal acquisition.
Paulo Diaz, RB/CB/LB, 23
San Lorenzo (Argentina)
Combative, tenacious, rough-and-ready: Diaz plays an aggressive, effective game in defence and has earned admirers in doing so, thumping into challenges and relishing 50-50s where legs get tangled.
He's played exclusively at full-back this season, both on the left and on the right, but it's notable how useful and powerful he can be in the air. That's the former centre-back in him singing.
Marcelo Saracchi, LB/LM, 19
River Plate (Argentina)
Saracchi's star is on the rise. It was only this year that he moved to River Plate from Uruguayan outfit Danubio, but he has impressed already and scouts will have taken notice.
River have utilised him as a left-back or left wing-back, but earlier in the year Uruguay deployed him on the wing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. He hares forward, crosses at full speed and plays at full throttle.
He looks a lot like your typical Italian Serie A wing-back.
Ignacio Fernandez, MID, 27
River Plate (Argentina)
Fernandez just seems to pop up all over the place. No matter what his starting position is—be it from the left or right, from deep or from just behind the striker—he travels across the pitch hunting for space.
That can be hard to keep tabs on for opponents and often results in him finding 10 yards of space in which to operate. His eye for a pass is good, and he can drift into some dangerous areas and pick up the odd goal too.
Jesus Medina, Wing, 20
Arguably the most under-the-radar name on this list is Medina's, a 20-year-old winger plying his trade in Paraguay. It won't stay that way for long, though.
In possession of a lovely left foot, Medina teases in some great balls from the left, and he varies his positional work before crossing well, sometimes hitting the byline, sometimes shifting inside. His looping crosses from set-piece scenarios yield an immense amount of danger.
Bruno Henrique, Wing, 26
Standing 6'0" tall with gangly limbs, you'd never peg Bruno Henrique for a winger on first sight. But he is deceptively explosive, changes direction in a heartbeat and has jaw-dropping close control.
Tied for the most assists in Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A (11) and with seven goals, his productivity speaks for itself. He's also managed three strikes in nine games in the Copa Libertadores. Squaring up defenders and rinsing them one-on-one is child's play for him.
Matheus Fernandes CM, 19
When Botafogo's play needs an injection of life, Matheus steps forward. He takes everything up a notch when he opts to rumble forward, and moves with surprising agility for one already 6'0" tall, rounding attempted tackles smoothly.
Given he's also an adept tackler and a smart passer, it may not be long before "Brazilian Nemanja Matic" tags become widespread.
Gonzalo Martinez, Wing, 24
River Plate (Argentina)
There's a seductive ease to how "Pity" Martinez strikes the football.
There are a number of similarities between him and Jesus Medina in how they operate, but when Martinez crosses or plays a fellow forward in, he does it in a way that reveals a technically brilliant player at work.
Ayrton Preciado, Wing, 23
Preciado has proved lethal when cutting in off the left flank and lining up shots with his right foot. His return of 11 goals from 34 league appearances is impressive; his return of three in eight in the Copa Libertadores is even better.
Fast and direct, he isn't the sort of player full-backs relish going up against. There are shades of Jose Izquierdo, a £13.5 million acquisition for Brighton & Hove Albion this past summer, to his play.
Alejandro Chumacero, AM, 26
The Strongest (Bolivia)
Like Medina, Chumacero—a Bolivian playing in the Bolivian league—isn't going to draw that much attention. Perhaps this year's Copa Libertadores can change things.
He's not the fastest or the quickest, but boy is he productive. A livewire attacking midfielder, he's the main catalyst for any positive play The Strongest produce, and he is capable of assisting and scoring in spades. His tally of eight 12 in the Copa stood as the joint-most heading into the final.
Ivan Marcone, DM, 27
Marcone's quite a specific player, but if you configure your system to place him in his best role, you're on to a winner.
The 27-year-old is a majestic long passer from deep in midfield, finding targets from distance with ease and consistency, while his tackling borders on stunning at times; he's a real technician when it comes to timing and force applied.
Placed in the middle of a three-man unit, he would flourish provided there are some legs either side of him—he's not the quickest.
Lucas Verissimo, CB, 22
Verissimo is a brave, aggressive centre-back who is becoming more and more synonymous with acts of last-ditch ridiculousness. Dramatic clearances on the stretch or from the goal-line all fall within a day's work for him.
The Brazilian boasts a nice blend of aggression and recovery ability; his aggressive instincts take him up the pitch for interceptions, but his intelligence and speed result in vital clearances. He's also excellent on the ball, happy to take it in tight spots from his goalkeeper and move it forward under pressure.
Dudu, AM, 25
Dudu's already tried Europe once—with Dynamo Kiev in 2011—but didn't last long. Now, at 25 years of age, he's a little wiser and quite a lot better; perhaps he'd be willing to give it another shot.
Clubs should be aware of his talents and be willing to try to convince him to have a go. He's developed into a top playmaker, boasting a dribbling ability that leaves many flummoxed as to how to stop him. He creates en masse for his lucky team-mates.
Jose Luis Gomez, RB, 24
Gomez is one of the most exciting players to watch on this list. To see him motoring forward all game long from right-back is a treat.
An extremely positive force, he's adept at nipping forward and stealing the ball high up, and he often tries to feed cute balls into the box for runners to latch on to. He can be a little loose with those passes at times, but the idea is there.
Juan Cazares, AM/Wing, 25
Atletico Mineiro (Brazil)
Cazares is no real secret at this point; his 21 caps for Ecuador and presence at Copa Americas have seen to that.
But he remains one of the most polished midfield schemers yet to be snapped up by a European club, and all signs point to the fact he's ready for that to change.
An agile, skilful dribbler with a lovely turn of pace, he glides past tacklers and naturally moves into dangerous areas. Crossing is a strength, be it from the byline or deeper positions, while his goal tallies get better with every passing season.
Zeca, RB/LB, 23
One of the best attacking full-backs—if not the best—in South America right now is Zeca.
He's already comfortable playing from either flank—a rare trait in a defender aged 23—and he plays quick football, injecting energy and impetus into his team's moves. He doesn't hesitate or ponder.
If he can get down the byline and cross, he will, but if not, he'll switch it to the opposite flank with a deft ball to change the angle of attack.
Lucas Lima, AM, 27
"Inter [Milan], Roma and Barcelona are keeping close tabs on Lucas, Manchester United want him," Lima's agent told Haberturk (h/t Metro) in September. That's quite a list of suitors.
It's remarkable the 27-year-old midfielder has lasted this long in Brazil, and with his contract expiring at the end of the calendar year, he'll likely have a long list of clubs to choose from. It's time for this creative talent to finally try his hand in Europe.
Yerry Mina, CB, 23
Mina has, supposedly, already committed to and signed for Barcelona, but as Sport reported last month, confusion reigns over whether he will arrive in Catalonia. If the Blaugrana fail to seal the deal, there should be a long queue of clubs looking to convince him his future lies with them.
A gargantuan presence, he defends with commitment and gusto but also strides forward in a way few can. He can pick passes well; he frequently sends runners storming in one-on-one, flicking from defence to attack in seconds.
Arthur, CM, 21
Probably the breakout star of the 2017 Copa Libertadores is Gremio's Arthur, who has emerged as a multifunctional central midfielder who impacts heavily in every phase.
Playing an all-encompassing No. 8 role in midfield, you'll see Arthur do all of the following in one match: unlock the defence with a slick, slide-rule pass; rumble forward with the ball, beating players one-on-one; and tracking back diligently, recovering the ball and restarting attacks.
The only area he hasn't impacted is the scoresheet—he's managed just one goal in 37 appearances across league and cup—but in this side, that's not his job.
Luan, ST/AM/Wing, 24
Arguably the best player in Brazil, Luan's time in South America feels like it's almost up. He was linked quite heavily to Liverpool last summer, but nothing came of it; 2018 will probably see him make the step up.
European audiences first noticed him due to his defining impact at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where his inclusion in the starting XI was a catalyst for Brazilian dominance. He makes that same difference for Gremio, unlocking defences with clever passes and ghosting into great positions to score from.
Add his talent to his astounding versatility—he can play four positions—and it's easy to see why he's been turning the heads of the big clubs.