Copa America 2019

Sans Neymar, Brazil can dazzle

Brazil's preparations for the Copa have been overshadowed by Neymar - firstly the rape allegations against the striker, and then an ankle injury.
Brazil's preparations for the Copa have been overshadowed by Neymar - firstly the rape allegations against the striker, and then an ankle injury.PHOTO: REUTERS

Selecao bank on home support, youngsters; Messi desperate to end international drought

SAO PAULO • Brazil expect to win every tournament they play, especially at home, but they go into this year's Copa America without their talisman Neymar and lacking some of the sparkle that has long been their stock in trade.

They have not lost since Belgium dumped them out of last year's World Cup quarter-finals. But their four-game unbeaten run, with the exception of last week's 7-0 drubbing of Honduras, has come largely without the usual flair.

Brazil's preparations for the Copa have been overshadowed by Neymar - firstly the rape allegations against the striker, which he has denied, and then the ankle injury that ruled him out of the competition.

Tite's squad are as good as any in the 12-team tournament that includes invited sides, Japan and World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar. But the coach is trying to manage a generational change and said that choosing his 23 players was the "most difficult" task he had faced since taking over three years ago.

Brazil have included only 14 of the squad that went to the World Cup in Russia a year ago, with Everton's Richarlison, David Neres of Ajax and midfielders Arthur of Barcelona and Lucas Paqueta of AC Milan among the young recruits.

Apart from home advantage, they are fortunate to be in one of the easier groups with Bolivia, who they face tomorrow morning (Singapore time), Peru and Venezuela.

The big question will be how they cope without Neymar. But the win over Honduras in their last warm-up game, with Philippe Coutinho resurgent and six players getting their names on the scoresheet, was an encouraging sign.

  • THE DRAW 

  • Group A: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela.

    Group B: Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Qatar.

    Group C: Ecuador, Japan, Uruguay, Chile.

    Quarter-finalists: Top two from each group plus the best two third-placed sides.

Brazil have won the Copa eight times but not since 2007 and that drought, compounded by a failure to win the World Cup since 2002, is a long one by Brazilian standards.

Fans expect a home triumph, but Tite was his usual inscrutable self when asked what he hoped to achieve over the next three weeks.

"We are playing in our own country, and expectations are high that we win," he said.

"But the expectation corresponds to how we perform. Are we going to win? I don't know. But I want us to do the best we can."

With Neymar sidelined, Lionel Messi is the main attraction and one with a desperate need to end more than a decade of hurt with Argentina, who start against Colombia on Sunday morning (Singapore time).

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has one of the most impressive trophy hauls in club history (four Champions League and 10 LaLiga titles with Barcelona), but there is a glaring void when it comes to national team accolades.

And the 31-year-old knows he is running out of time.

"I want to end my career having won something with the national team, or at least try to do so as many times as possible," Messi told Fox Sports last week.

Argentina have a young squad but that has not dampened expectation despite it being 26 years since they last won the Copa having played in four of the last five finals.

"Argentina are going through a process of change with young lads," Messi added.

"For most of them, it's their first official tournament, but that won't stop us trying to win."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRAZIL V BOLIVIA
 StarHub Ch202, tomorrow, 8.15am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2019, with the headline 'Sans Neymar, Brazil can dazzle'. Print Edition | Subscribe