Brazil coach Tite keeps options open after Neymar injury

Brazil players Roberto Firmino (left) and Casemiro training at Beira-Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre on Saturday. The eight-time Copa America winners triumphed the last time they were hosts in 1989.
Brazil players Roberto Firmino (left) and Casemiro training at Beira-Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre on Saturday. The eight-time Copa America winners triumphed the last time they were hosts in 1989.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PORTO ALEGRE • Brazil coach Tite said on Saturday that he has yet to decide who will replace injured star Neymar on the left side of attack, as the five-time world champions prepare to host the Copa America.

The Selecao faced Honduras in a friendly at Porto Alegre's Beira-Rio stadium yesterday, the team's last outing before they kick off the continental tournament against Bolivia in Sao Paulo on Friday.

Ajax forward David Neres is favourite to take Neymar's place but Tite also raised the prospect of using Liverpool's Roberto Firmino or AC Milan's Lucas Paqueta.

Tite said: "We could have Gabriel (Jesus) and Firmino up front. Why not? We could also have Paqueta on the (left). The team is a living organism. It expresses itself and this means things can change."

Neymar was ruled out of the tournament after suffering an ankle ligament injury in Brazil's 2-0 victory over Qatar in Brasilia on Wednesday and is expected to be out of action for four weeks.

Chelsea winger Willian, 30, was subsequently drafted into Brazil's squad but he is not expected to vie for a starting berth in the Copa.

Tite had words of support for Neymar, who is under police investigation after a woman accused him of raping her in a hotel last month.

"The feeling is of concern for the human side, to be able to deal with his problems and frustration of (not playing). For me he is one of the top three players in the world," Tite said of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

In addition to Bolivia, eight-time Copa winners Brazil will face Peru and Venezuela in Group A.

There was better news for Japan, one of two invited teams with Qatar. Kensuke Nagai scored his first goals for the Samurai Blue with a brace in a 2-0 win over El Salvador in Miyagi yesterday as part of their final warm-up.

Arguably the biggest cheer of the night went up with 23 minutes to go, when Nagai's strike partner at FC Tokyo, Takefusa Kubo, came on for his debut.

Kubo, who turned 18 on June 4, is nicknamed the "Japanese Messi", having trained at Barcelona's famed youth academy and being linked with a transfer to a host of top European clubs.

The teenager was a constant menace down the right after coming on, almost scoring himself and laying on several chances for teammates.

Japan have been drawn in Group C alongside Uruguay, Ecuador and Chile for the Copa.

XINHUA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2019, with the headline 'Brazil coach Tite keeps options open after Neymar injury'. Print Edition | Subscribe