Copa America 2015: Team of the Tournament

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2015

Copa America 2015: Team of the Tournament

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    The culmination of the 2015 Copa America in Chile saw the hosts lift the trophy on penalties after seeing off Argentina in the final.

    Looking back at the 26 matches over the course of just under a month, we have assessed and picked out the top overall performers from the competition.

    In selecting players, we gave highest priority to individual contribution, weighing in what that meant for team progression. So it's no surprise to see those who reached the latter stages figure prominently—especially as that meant they had more opportunities to shine.

    Here is our Copa America team of the tournament.

GK: David Ospina, COL

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    Jorge Saenz/Associated Press

    In goal it's the sole participant from Colombia, David Ospina.

    The Arsenal man conceded just a single goal in four matches at the Copa and was in fantastic form in the knock-out stage in particular, denying Argentina single-handedly in the 90 minutes and forcing penalties with a string of saves—notably a spectacular double stop to keep out Kun Aguero and Leo Messi.

    His side exited in that match from the spot-kicks, but Ospina reminded everyone of his qualities. Chile's Claudio Bravo deserves a mention as he was excellent, but Ospina gets the spot.

DF: Carlos Ascues, PER

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    Luis Hidalgo/Associated Press

    Peru reached the semi-finals of the Copa America for the second time in a row and eventually picked up third place, just as they did in 2011.

    A big part of the reason for their fine run was some solid defensive play, allied to their dangerous and direct attack—and it was Carlos Ascues who was the rock in the back line for them throughout the competition. He was aggressive and reactive to danger, always on hand to put in a challenge or make a clearance, and was a stand-out who can be part of the team for years to come.

    Ascues takes the spot ahead of Colombia's Jeison Murillo, who also largely impressed.

DF: Nicolas Otamendi, ARG

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    Andre Penner/Associated Press

    Our next centre-back went all the way to the final, but Nicolas Otamendi ended on the losing side despite keeping another clean sheet.

    The Valencia man didn't have a great end to the first game of the competition, but after that he was his usual reliable and committed self, winning the ball on the deck and in the air and making sure that Argentina's back line was resilient and organised.

    Argentina kept four clean sheets in six games, conceding only once in that run, with Otamendi the mainstay centrally.

DF: Gary Medel, CHI

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    Luis Hidalgo/Associated Press

    Aggression, overstepping the mark and playing well above his usual level of consistency are all standard traits for Gary Medel when he pulls on the Chile shirt, and he didn't disappoint in the Copa America.

    Medel had a number of big performances at the back, winning plenty of late crunching tackles and even being fairly dominant aerially at times, despite it being a perceived weakness of Chile.

    His assault on Leo Messi in the final might have been lucky to escape a red card, but he kept Sergio Aguero quiet and certainly deserved his winner's medal.

MD: Jorge Valdivia, CHI

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    Unsurprisingly, Chile have a number of entrants in our team of the tournament—fitting, since they won it and were indeed the best overall side.

    One of the midfielders to really step up and perform was Jorge Valdivia, who found his best form and consistency to be a hugely creative presence during the tournament. He finished with three assists, tied for highest in the entire tournament, and his passing and vision in the knock-out phase were key for Chile's progression.

    Valdivia didn't score, but his attacking qualities were on show throughout the tournament.

MD: Javier Mascherano, ARG

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    Andre Penner/Associated Press

    Holding Argentina's midfield together, and ours, is Javier Mascherano.

    The combative defensive midfielder was his usual excellent and important self, racing all over his half of the pitch to make interceptions, cover challenges and begin Argentina's construction from deep.

    It's hard to think of a better player to give the attackers in Argentina's side a platform to work from, and Mascherano was as pivotal as ever, even in the final when he made a number of excellent interventions—but that time, at least, his offensive team-mates weren't up to scratch.

MD: Arturo Vidal, CHI

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    Arturo Vidal excelled early on in the competition for Chile  before being controversially left in the squad after being involved in a car accident under the influence of alcohol.

    As he remained, he continued to be a pivotal part of the team as he rampaged and barrelled through the centre of midfield—and he ended up a winner, scoring a penalty in the final shoot-out and ending on three goals overall.

    Vidal certainly had a season to remember after winning a double with Juventus before losing the Champions League final—though the Copa America win now will doubtless more than make up for that disappointment.

MD: Angel Di Maria, ARG

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    Our final midfield berth goes to Mascherano's team-mate Angel Di Maria, who suffered the terrible luck of mostly missing out on his second international final in the space of a year through injury.

    After missing the World Cup final last year, Di Maria lasted just half an hour in the Copa final before succumbing to a leg muscle problem after having been one of Argentina's key players on the run to the last game.

    In the semi-final in particular, he and Javier Pastore were unstoppable, with Di Maria's pace and delivery a fine sight for Tata Martino's team. Even in the brief time he played in the final, he was perhaps the most dangerous Argentine attacker as he ran from deep and looked to carve out chances as he dribbled.

FW: Lionel Messi, ARG

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    Luis Hidalgo/Associated Press

    Once again, it didn't happen for Lionel Messi, as Argentina lost a third Copa America final in four attempts, but prior to his disappointing 120 minutes in Santiago, he was largely excellent for his nation.

    Like Di Maria, Messi hit his peak one game too early—he simply ripped Paraguay apart in the semi-finals, showing some of his best dribbling and creative skills to dominate the match and claim a hat-trick of assists.

    His odd lack of scoring at the international level continued, but Messi was otherwise a stand-out for his team and must be cursing his lack of fortune when it matters most with Argentina, despite his unforgettable year at club level.

FW: Paolo Guerrero, PER

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    Andre Penner/Associated Press

    One of the joint-top scorers of the tournament, Paolo Guerrero was Peru's big name in attack and was as important in their construction of chances and build-up play as he was with actually finishing off moves in the knock-out phase.

    Guerrero hit a hat-trick against Bolivia and scored another against Paraguay in the third-place play-off to finish on four—he also scored five in the Copa four years ago.

    Whether playing solo through the middle or along with Claudio Pizarro, Guerrero's dominance in the air and movement across the front line gave defences trouble as Peru looked to go early to him and support from the second line. He was crucial to a second successive third-place finish for the nation.

FW: Edu Vargas, CHI

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    Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

    Our last selection goes to Eduardo Vargas of Chile just ahead of Sergio Aguero of Argentina, who faded significantly after the group stages.

    Vargas was another who managed to come up with his best performances of the year for his nation once again, scoring four to end as joint-top scorer with Guerrero—including both goals for Chile in the semis to knock out Peru.

    Clever movement down the right channel, link-up play with Alexis Sanchez and some fine trickery of his own all made Vargas a natural starter for Chile, and he was another who was a deserving recipient of the winner's medal.