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10 South American players to watch

With the World Cup back in South America for the first time since 1978, ESPN Argentina's Damian Didonato looks at 10 South American stars who didn't make it into #WorldCupRank but who should still make a sizable impact this summer.

James Rodríguez, MF, Colombia
This Monaco midfielder is the brain of the Colombian team. As a central playmaker or cutting in from the left, James is the linchpin that makes Jose Pekerman's attacking system work. After Falcao's injury, the former Porto and Banfield man must lead his team this summer.

Teófilo Gutiérrez, FW, Colombia
Among the abundance of attackers that Colombia enjoys, this River Plate player stands out as one of the best. It's true that he still hasn't succeeded in European football, but he has all the qualities to achieve it in due course. Smart, accurate and a great finisher, Teo is vital in Falcao's absence.

Paulinho, MF, Brazil
His name is not on the marquee of Brazilian soccer but he has become a very important man in Luiz Felipe Scolari's scheme. The Tottenham midfielder shares the center with Luiz Gustavo, and they are a pair with character and sacrifice but also good technical skill.

Diego Godin must continue his superb form for Atletico if Uruguay is to contend for top honors this summer.
Diego Godin must continue his superb form for Atletico if Uruguay is to contend for top honors this summer.

Diego Godín, DF, Uruguay
He's coming into the World Cup after the best season of his life at Atlético Madrid. The defender has all the characteristics of a tough Uruguayan centre-back but can also play with his feet and, as he demonstrated in the final of the Champions League, score important goals. Will be part of one of the best defensive pairings of the World Cup together with Diego Lugano.

Antonio Valencia, MF, Ecuador
For years he's been the great star of Ecuadorian soccer and will look to continue as such this summer as his side's undisputed leader. The Manchester United midfielder is vital given his speed and relentlessness in attack, plus his contributions in creating space for teammates. Ecuador would not be the same without him.

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Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, MF, Colombia
One of the most consistent players in Serie A this past season. Cuadrado is fast, aggressive and has learned how to finish attacking moves, which only adds to his danger for opponents at the World Cup. The Colombian side needs him in all his splendor -- he can play full-back, wing-back or attacking midfield -- to be a key player on both sides of the ball.

Pablo Zabaleta, DF, Argentina
Amid the constellation of stars that make up Argentina's national team, the work of defenders is almost always criticized as their primary weakness. However, their right-back is one of the most reliable in European football. Zabaleta is a guarantee when it comes to defending and can also attack judiciously on the overlap. If Sabella uses him wisely, he will be a very important asset in their pursuit of glory.

Enner Valencia scored 18 goals in 23 games for Pachuca this season. Can he be prolific for Ecuador in Brazil?
Enner Valencia scored 18 goals in 23 games for Pachuca this season. Can he be prolific for Ecuador in Brazil?

Enner Valencia, FW, Ecuador
After the tragic death of Chucho Benítez devastated the Ecuadorian national team, they nevertheless managed to qualify for the finals and would love a strong tournament run as homage to their idol. To do so, Valencia's contribution will be very important up front. Having won the Golden Boot as top scorer in the 2014 Liga MX Clausura, he'll seek to continue that form in Brazil.

Cristian Rodríguez, MF, Uruguay
"El Cebolla" is one of those quiet players who is missed when they're not around. And that feeling is even stronger for Uruguay, where he earned a starting spot in a star-studded lineup based on his willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the team. The Atlético Madrid midfielder must perform if Uruguay is to repeat their semifinal run of 2010.

Marcelo, DF, Brazil
With Dani Alves on the other side of the field, often Marcelo's work at left-back is belittled -- with some even questioning his place as a first-team player. However, this time the Real Madrid defender comes to the World Cup as European champion after scoring a goal in the final. It's an excellent letter of introduction for a full-back with true Brazilian style.


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