The common misconception is that, with the Champions League ending, the curtain has come down on another footballing season and men and women everywhere are left with nothing to do but visit garden centres, mend shelves and communicate with each other in person for the next two months. Fortunately however, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as in Chile at the Copa America, some of football’s finest attacking players (and Radamel Falcao) will be doing battle in the world’s oldest international football competition.
Argentina go into the tournament as favourites ahead of Brazil and host’s Chile, although there will be as much interest in the battle for the tournament’s golden boot. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Carlos Tevez, Eduargo Vargas, and James Rodriguez will all fancy themselves to get among the goals, and we’ve taken a look at the top three players in the betting to see which striker deserves a decent punt.
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Lionel Messi is coming off the back of yet another incredible club season, scoring 43 goals in 38 La Liga games and helping Barcelona to a historic second treble. Throw in five goals in six Copa Del Rey games, plus 10 goals in 13 Champions League matches, and it’s fairly obvious why the traders are fearing for their lives ahead of Copa America. And while you’d be mad to bet against Lionel Messi, his international record isn’t all that. In fact he averages a goal for Argentina every 2.15 games – a record that is marginally worse than Robbie Keane’s is for Ireland. Clearly it’s still an impressive tally, but somewhat disappointing in standard Messi has set at Barcelona.
But he is 3/1 favourite for a reason. Two of the worst four sides in the tournament (based on FIFA rankings), Jamaica and Paraguay are in Argentina’s group and Gerardo Martino’s men are fully expected to rack up a number of high scoring games on their way to the knock-out stages. But although that is the expectation, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen. Argentina scored just seven goals in eight World Cup games and three of those were against Nigeria. Switzerland and Iran proved that by setting up well defensively you can nullify the threat of Messi and co.
Neymar is a more appealing punt at 6/1. The Brazilian’s record of 43 goals in 62 games currently gives him a better strike rate than Zico and fat Ronaldo, and he bagged four goals in five World Cup games before being injured against Colombia. Brazil face a rematch with Colombia in Group C, and while that is likely to be a tough test for Dunga’s men, games against Peru and Venezuela should provide Neymar with plenty of goalscoring opportunities.
While Messi shares the goalscoring load with Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain, Neymar is Brazil’s star striker so expect him to be on the receiving end of far more goalscoring chances. Neymar averaged more chances per minute than Messi during the World Cup, and with Brazil and Argentina on a collision course to meet in the semi-final on June 30, his price of 6/1 offers far better value.
Chile’s leading hope is Arsenal’s top scorer in the league this season, Alexis Sanchez. Although his from figures pale into insignificance when up against Neymar and Messi, you have to consider that Barcelona probably have an easier run at the league title than the Gunners. While Sanchez’s international record – an average of one goal every three games – hardly fills you with confidence either, there are a number of positives for Sanchez backers to cling on to.
For starters, Chile would appear to have an easier route to the final than others, as they are assured of avoiding Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay who are in the other half of the draw. Clearly getting to the final is a bonus, as the more games you play, the more goals you’re likely to score. We don’t need the abacus to work that one out. Secondly Chile are the hosts and a passionate home support is likely to help a Chile side who played a lot of high intensity football at the World Cup. Plus Sanchez isn’t one to go missing in the big games. Goals against Manchester City, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, plus a thundering effort in the FA Cup Final go some way to proving that. At odds of 9/1 he’s a live outside chance.