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The beginning of the 2023 Copa Libertadores will usher in a new generation of South American football rising stars and this is your chance to catch them before they become household names.
We've scoured the continent for seven players to keep an eye on when the play-off rounds begin this week.
Daniel Ruiz – Millonarios
The diminutive Colombia Under-20 international possesses all the skills: trickery, vision, pace and an uncanny ability to pot them from all over the edge of the 18 yard box. The best thing? He’s left-footed, making him an attractive proposition for European suitors. Lazio was linked with a move in January.
Guilherme Arana – Atletico Mineiro
In a stacked Mineiro team full of players who made a name in Europe before returning to South America, Arana stands out for the opposite reason. The left back returned to Brazil in 2020 after struggling to crack the grade in stints at Sevilla and Atalanta. With raw pace and a willingness to get forward in attack, the capped Brazil international is a potent option down the flank for Mineiro and will be desperate for a strong showing in the Libertadores to show he deserves another crack at Europe.
Hercules – Fortaleza
With a name like ‘Hercules’ you’d want to stand out on the pitch and the diminutive Brazilian midfielder does just that with his impeccable timing in defence, smooth skills on the ball and tendency to go for goal. The 22 year-old is highly-rated and will be desperate for a good showing in the Libertadores to put himself firmly in the shop window.
Jesus Castillo – Sporting Cristal
At the base of a talented Sporting Cristal midfield sits Castillo, a Peruvian playmaker with a knack for stroking pinpoint passes across the pitch in the style of a Xabi Alonso. The 21 year-old made his senior national team debut in Peru’s 1-0 win over Bolivia last November and one senses it was the start of what will be a long career for la Blanquirroja.
Robert Morales – Cerro Porteno
The 23 year-old Paraguayan is nicknamed ‘La Pantera’ – or ‘the panther’ – but he’s more suited to the title of ‘poacher’, with an eye for goal that makes him a constant threat in the Cerro Porteno forward line. In this season’s Primera Division Apertura, the Panther has scored nine goals in as many games, his wily ability to create goals in tight spaces conjuring visions of Luis Suarez.
Sergio Diaz – Cerro Porteno
Nicknamed the ‘Paraguayan Aguero’, Diaz burst onto the scene for Cerro as a 15 year-old in 2014, attracting the attention of European scouts with a number of eye-catching performances. Two years later he was off to Real Madrid, where the nightmare began. A serious knee injury, tendonitis and loan stint after loan stint meant Diaz was never able to fulfil his vast potential. In 2022, he re-joined Cerro after being released by Real Madrid’s reserve team. Now 24, the hype has long since died away, but if Diaz can recapture his best form in front of goal, Cerro will be compulsory viewing this season.
Francisco Ginella – Nacional
LAFC fans will know all about the cultured midfielder, who has represented Uruguay at every junior level. After bursting onto the MLS in his first two years at the expansion club, Ginella struggled to recapture his best in 2022, being sent to Nacional on a 12-month loan. At 24 years-of-age, he’ll be desperate to rediscover the magic this season. That magic includes tenacious defence, an effortless running style belying a robust work ethic and smooth play-making ability.