Lionel Messi is the guy on the posters and the pre-tournament favourite to win the kudos as the Copa America’s outstanding youngster. But the performances of Nery Castillo are a real threat to the Barca star’s pretentions.
The 23-year old striker was sensational in Mexico’s opener against Brazil and he proved it was no fluke with a similarly spectacular display – and a goal – in his country’s 2-1 win over Ecuador on Sunday night.
Few people outside Mexico or Greece, where he plays his football for Olympiakos, had heard about Castillo before the Copa America began. Which was no surprise give that he only made his Mexico debut a month ago after years of toying with the Tri (the nickname Mexicans give their national side comes from tricolor, Mexico’s flag of green, white and red).
But since then he has proven a sensation and shown why Mexico, Uruguay, where his father was born and where he made his professional debut for Danubio at age 15, and Greece, where he is about to become a naturalised citizen, all fought for his signature.
His blistering pace can rip open defences and unlike many players today he attempts to stay on his feet and get past opponents rather than go down at the slightest nudge. Such an attitude has made him a target for defenders; just moments after nipping between two lumbering Ecuadorans to open the scoring on Sunday one of them hit him from behind with a vicious challenge that quite clearly said, Don’t make a fool of me again.
Castillo dusted himself off and got on with the game, evidence that the immaturity that plagued his game for years might be a thing of the past. His performances in this Copa America indicate that future headlines will be for all the right reasons.