As hosts Brazil prepare themselves to walk through the Estadio do Morumbi tunnel in less than 24 hours, expectations will be at an all-time high to clasp the Copa America 2019 trophy on home soil. In theory, the Samba Boys would be expected to rejoice at the prospect of opening their account against minnows Bolivia in Group A.
However, after the 2014 horror show in the Maracana which played host to the Selecao’s lowest point in their decorated history as Germany crushed the hopes of a nation, pride and redemption is on the line.
A strange coincidence that transpired on the eve of the encounter against the Germans as well as before Brazil’s opener is the absence of their main man Neymar through injury. A knee injury against Qatar in a pre-tournament friendly has forced their brightest hope to take a backseat. The PSG superstar’s forced expulsion puts this Brazilian bunch under the scanner to prove their credentials and overcome not only Neymar’s exit but also the tag of being a ‘one-man team’.
On paper, the gulf in class between the two sides is monumental. On one hand, Tite had the luxury of excluding Real Madrid duo Marcelo and Vinicius Junior and Tottenham’s Lucas Moura, while Bolivian boss Eduardo Villegas does not have a single player in his 23-man squad who plays in Europe.
Despite the fact that friendlies are an inaccurate barometer of a team’s form, Brazil and Bolivia faced one of their possible knockout opponents in Qatar and Japan respectively which told a story.
The 8-time Copa America champions cruised to a routine 2-0 victory over Felix Sanchez’s side while Bolivia were defeated 1-0 by Japan. While Tite’s men were expected to swat away Qatar as they did, La Verde’s uninspiring display is merely a reality check about the fact that they simply do not belong at the level of South America’s finest teams.
Villegas would stray away from simply surrendering the contest. However, he would be well aware of his team’s role in stifling their superior opponents instead of trying to serenade their supporters and as a result, bowing out with a whimper.
For Brazil, a victory is central to their ambitions, but in case Tite is dissatisfied with the team’s performance, it gives him a chance to tinker around slightly before the side reach the business end of the competition.
Sau Paulo’s premier stadium will watch on as Brazil will revel in the hosting honors and prove that quality prevails above all in sport.
Prediction: Brazil 4 Bolivia 0