Players appearing at their final Copa América

One outcome of a major international tournament is that at its conclusion, a number of players announce their retirement, either from their national side or from the sport completely.

In some cases, it is dictated by age, in others by injury, and in other instances, a desire to go out at the top, afraid that continuing past their “sell-by” date will inevitably diminish their legacy.

This year’s Copa América will be no different, and it could also see one of the finest players of this or any other generation take his bow on the international stage.

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Three years ago, in the final of the Copa América in Rio, Lionel Messi finally lifted some international silverware after sixteen years as a professional. It would be no exaggeration to say that then inspired Argentina to their World Cup triumph in Qatar the following year. In this tournament, he won the Golden Ball for the best player and the Silver Boot after finishing behind Kylian Mbappé in the goalscoring charts.

Many thought that would be the moment for Messi to retire from international football, given that he had little left to prove, but he continued to carry on for a while, enjoying the feeling of playing for the World Champions.

Having since moved to the US and the MLS with Inter Miami, he is inevitably a huge draw at this tournament, and those involved with the 2026 World Cup would dearly love for him to stay with them.

The player himself has been ambiguous about his plans and has publicly wondered if he can maintain his high standards for another two years and maintain his physique, given his age.

This could be the time he finally decides to take his international bow.

Ángel di Maria (Argentina)

Ángel di Maria scored the goal in the final of the Copa América last time, but the Argentine has already announced that this tournament will be his last.  Now 36, he has made a major contribution to Argentine football, having won 141 caps and scored 31 goals.

He has appeared in four World Cups and featured in three Copa América finals, and his legacy is assured as the man who ended their 28-year trophy drought in 2021.

Although English football fans did not see the best of him during his brief and unhappy spell at Manchester United, his glittering club career with Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, and Juventus means that he should be bracketed among the best players of his generation.

Luis Suárez (Uruguay)

The man known as ‘El Pistolero” (The Gunman), Luis Suárez, is regarded as one of the best strikers of his generation and has scored more than 500 career goals for club and country.

He has previously won two European Golden Shoes and the Golden Boot in both the Premier League and La Liga.

However, he is now 37 and plies his trade in the MLS, where he is a teammate of Lionel Messi at Inter Miami. Although he can still score goals at that level, he is no longer the striker who was once so feared in the major leagues in Europe.

Nor has his international career been without controversy. It was his handball against Ghana at the 2010 World Cup that denied the West Africans a specific goal, whilst there have been several biting incidents and examples of diving and racist behaviour.

Yet, he has remained an important figure for Uruguay, having won 138 caps and scored 68 goals, an all-time national record.

It is the end of an era for Uruguay regarding their forwards, with Edinson Cavani also having retired after the last World Cup. Instead, they will look to a new generation of players like Darwin Núňez to pick up where Cavani and Suárez have left off.

Alexis Sánchez (Chile)

Alexis Sánchez is regarded as one of the greatest players Chile has ever produced and played a vital role in winning back-to-back Copa Américas in 2015 and 2016.

He is now 35 years old, though, and the strength, quickness of feet, and dribbling skills that were a key part of his game are no longer evident.

Chile is also experiencing a period of doldrums. They failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup and are struggling to make it through to 2026.

It is time to rebuild and to thank Sánchez for his considerable service to his country.

Claudio Bravo (Chile)

Like Sánchez, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is part of Chile’s Golden Generation, and, like him, he is almost certainly at the end of his international journey.

Now 41, he has won 149 caps for his country and has been their undisputed number one for the past two decades.  He captained the side in both their Copa América triumphs and is their third most-capped player after Sanchez and Gary Mendel. This is his seventh Copa América and almost certainly his last.

He has already set a record in this tournament – his appearance against Peru, in which he made four crucial saves in a goalless draw – made him the oldest player in Copa América history.

Paolo Guerrero (Peru)

Paolo Guerrero is Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer, scoring 39 goals in 119 appearances. 

He is also the oldest Peruvian to have appeared in a World Cup when he was 34. Six years later, he is still playing at an age when many of his contemporaries have long since retired.

Peru, though, needs even more dramatic surgery than Chile. They are currently at the bottom of the 2026 World Cup qualifying. Guerrero has had his time in the sun.

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

James Rodríguez was one of the breakout stars of the 2014 World Cup, where his performances for Colombia earned him a big-money move to Real Madrid. However, he struggled to show the same level of consistency in Europe. After a series of unimpressive loan moves, including to Everton in the Premier League, he returned to South American football with São Paolo.

Left out of Colombia’s Copa América in 2021, his recall for this tournament edition is perhaps one last chance to show what the hype was about all those years ago.

Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)

Arsenal fans of a certain age will remember Joel Campbell, the Costa Rican forward who played for them under Arsène Wenger. Although he spent the majority of his time at the Emirates out on loan, he was a key player. 

They may be surprised that he continues playing for his country, although he now plays club football in Mexico. He has 139 caps and was part of the Costa Rica team that reached the last eight of the 2014 World Cup.

This could be his final tournament, though.

Carlos Lampe (Bolivia)

After Claudio Bravo, Carlos Lampe, another goalkeeper, is the second oldest player in this year’s tournament. The Bolivian shot-stopper is 37 years old, having made his international debut in 2010.

He has since gone on to represent them in multiple Copa América tournaments, and his experience and leadership will be crucial as he looks to guide a mainly young squad around him.

His age alone means this is likely to be his final appearance on a major international stage.

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