From Vinicius Junior to Julian Alvarez, countless South American stars cut their teeth in the Copa Libertadores. The current version of the competition is halfway through the group stage, with round four kicking off on Tuesday. So far these have been some of the most impressive youngsters, a couple who are rebuilding their careers, and a pair of veterans enjoying a moment in the sun.
Last year, at the age of 17, Vitor Roque played in the final of the Libertadores when Athletico Paranaense went down to Flamengo in an all-Brazilian clash. It is hard to imagine him playing in this year's final, even if Athletico make it all the way. The expectation is that he will sign with a Premier League giant in the summer transfer window. Indeed, Athletico had imagined that his visibility and his transfer fee would rise further.
Although early season evidence has been overwhelming, Athletico are dependent on their burly teenage centre-forward. He is their player they want to get full value in the Libertadores and the domestic league. He was not released for the Under-20 World Cup, and if he does indeed move on in a few months, he will hope to lead Athletico safely through to the knockout rounds of the Libertadores.
What makes Roque so exciting is that he is a genuine centre-forward. In recent times Brazil have produced more quality wide strikers than they can accommodate on the national team. Centre-forwards have not been so plentiful. With strength, speed and precision in his finishing, Roque can lead the attacking line from the middle of the field. After starring in the South American Under-20 championship at the start of the year he has already played for Brazil's senior side. He is one for the long term -- and for the short term as Athletico strive to get through the round of 16 of the Libertadores.
Benfica did a wonderfully smart piece of business with Enzo Fernandez, acquiring him from River Plate in Argentina, making brief but good use of him and then transferring him on in a Premier League record deal to Chelsea. Now the Portuguese side are casting their eye on another Fernandez from Buenos Aires -- this one from across town at Boca Juniors.
There are similarities between Enzo and Ezequiel Fernandez (even if no direct relation). Enzo's career gained momentum with a loan spell, so did Ezequiel's, who spent last year at Tigre. Both are central midfielders. Ezequiel, who turns 21 next month, is left-footed and bristling with quality. In an interview with TyC Sports in Argentina, World Cup winner Alexis MacAllister recently suggested that Brighton snap him up.
Ezequiel might need careful handling. The youngster is still raw and erratic, and after the arrival of new coach Jorge Almiron he has spent much of his time as a second-half substitute. But the potential is undeniable, and this year's Libertadores is an excellent opportunity to cast an eye on the development of a fascinating talent.
Another Argentine midfielder worth a look at is Juan Ignacio Nardoni at Racing. Also 21 in July, Nardoni was brought in from Santa Fe this year. Although he is not a direct replacement for Carlos Alcaraz, now of Southampton, Nardoni can time his runs into the box well, and it will be interesting to see how he is developed by coach Fernando Gago.
In Paraguay, meanwhile, Damian Bobadilla is a promising central midfielder with Cerro Porteno. The son of a former international goalkeeper, Bobadilla has modelled his game on Frenkie de Jong and Toni Kroos, and has a sound range of passing combined with the capacity to burst into the box.
Lucas Beltran, 22, is enjoying a splendid season as the cutting edge of the new River Plate coached by Martin De Michelis. After an extended loan spell with Colon of Santa Fe, Beltran has returned to the capital with more experience and a notable swagger, and his neat skills have made him a better fit for a passing midfield than former Premier League striker Salomon Rondon.
Turning 23 in July, Paulinho was one of Brazilian football's great hopes in the Vinicius generation. Nearly two years ago he was part of the Olympic gold-medal-winning squad, but a move to Bayer Leverkusen did not turn out as expected -- in part because of a sequence of injuries, and he is now back in his homeland with Atletico Mineiro, where he is forming a fine front partnership with the veteran Hulk.
This has entailed a slight change of position. When he made his name with Vasco da Gama he was more of a wide man, cutting in from the left flank onto his stronger left foot. He and Hulk have clicked well upfront, but the evidence points to a conclusion that he needs to improve his left foot if he is to become a genuinely top class player.
Another going through a rebuilding process is 23-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder Jordy Alcivar. He came to prominence in his country's outstanding Under-20 team of 2019, South American champions and third in that year's World Cup at the level. A central midfielder, Alcivar's cultured passing launched many of his team's attacks. But where many of his Under-20 colleagues graduated to the senior squad in Qatar, Alcivar's career stalled with an underwhelming spell with Charlotte in MLS. He has now been picked up by Independiente del Valle, who along with their excellent youth development work also have a shrewd eye for the market, and has become an important part of a side who seem well placed to reach the Libertadores knockout stage.
The two top scorers so far in the group stage of the Libertadores are neither up-and-comers nor players attempting a rebuild. They are a pair of 35-year-olds. In second place, with five goals, is German Cano, an Argentine striker with Fluminense of Brazil. Cano has spent a decade and a half wandering across Latin America, typically with modest clubs. From his native Argentina to numerous spells in Colombia, briefly in Paraguay and time in Mexico before arriving in Brazil, he has always scored goals. It is easy to underestimate him. There are no frills or tricks, just effective movement and efficient finishing.
Dorlan Pabon has more of a name, with spells in Italy and Spain as well as a short international career with Colombia. Like Cano, he spent years in Mexico, and has now headed home, where, aided by a couple of penalties, he has scored six goals for Atletico Nacional de Medellin. Pabon made his name as a stocky winger with bullet pace and a rocket shot. Some of the pace, inevitably, has now gone, but the shot remains, and it is a key part of his club's quest to put together their first serious Libertadores challenge since winning the trophy in 2016.