Copa America 2019: It's all-in or nothing for Brazil
Brazil are set to kick off the Copa America this Friday against minnows Bolivia. While the Selecao might be looked at as the favorites this year, it will be no easy task to secure the championship. The Copa America has been Brazil’s bogey tournament over the last decade. In the 2011 tournament, they famously lost to Paraguay in the quarterfinals in embarrassing fashion as they missed all four of their penalties in the shoot-out to crash out of the tournament.
In 2015, they once again fell short to Paraguay in the quarterfinals, again losing on penalties. In the 2016 Copa America Centenario (the 100-year anniversary special that combined CONCACAF and CONMEBOL teams) Brazil were horrible, failing to even reach the knockout stages while in a group with Peru, Ecuador, and Haiti. In 2019, Brazil havd the chance to write all the wrongs of the past three tournaments.
Neymar has been Brazil’s best player since bursting onto the scene in the 2013 Confederations Cup. However, he has failed to make an impact at any Copa America tournament that he has participated in. In 2015, he was sent off after the second group game in a 1-0 defeat to Colombia after deliberately kicking the ball at Pablo Armero. Neymar was given a 4-game suspension which subsequently ruled him out of the tournament. In 2016, instead of going to the United States with the rest of his team, he decided to instead opt to play for the Brazil Olympic team in Rio.
This decision ultimately paid off as Brazil won their first-ever gold medal in Football after defeating Germany on penalties. Now in 2019, with altercations with fans in the stands, and an injury-riddled season, one would've rightfully assumed that it is finally time for Neymar to bring the Copa America home. Until of course he was ruled out of the whole tournament with an ankle injury suffered in a friendly with Qatar last week. Tite will be without his talisman, but even without one of the worlds best, Brazil still have more than enough weapons to win the tournament.
Tite has two world-class goalkeepers to choose from in Alisson and Ederson. The Premier League duo have been two of the worlds best this season. Dani Alves is fit to start the tournament, and the 36-year old’s attacking prowess and experience was sorely missed at least years World Cup. Alves’ excellent attacking output will be contrasted with Filipe Luis’ powerful defensive ability as he is tipped to start at left-back. PSG duo Marquinhos and Thiago Silva’s chemistry will be on full display in the center-half positions with Silva being the perfect yin to Marquinhos’ yang.
Casemiro will most likely be Brazil’s starting defensive midfielder as his aggressiveness and sheer strength is the ideal balance to the Selecao’s midfield three. He will have a chip on his shoulder after a less than impressive season with Real Madrid. Luckily, if Casemiro isn’t up to scratch, Fernandinho is Brazil’s back-up option. Fernandinho is a polarizing figure for Brazil as he has consistently been one of the top midfielders in the world for Manchester City, but has not quite translated that form for the national side.
Just like Casemiro, if Fernandinho has the chance to play, he will have a lot to prove. Speaking of players with a lot to prove, Phillippe Coutinho is one of Tite’s favorites playing in the left central midfield role. Coutinho has had a season to forget for Barcelona, with the Blaugrana wanting to cut their losses in the summer and ship him out. Coutinho’s role for Brazil will undoubtedly be even bigger in this tournament with Neymar’s absence.
He will have to carry a lot more of the attacking load as he is the most talented player Brazil possesses. The third man in Brazil’s midfield three will be Arthur who picked up a knock in a friendly against Honduras. While he may not feature in Brazil’s first game against Bolivia, the Barcelona man will surely make an impact in his first international tournament after a stellar debut campaign in Europe.
The front three will be spearheaded by Gabriel Jesus who only played a little over one-thousand Premier League minutes in Manchester City’s title-winning campaign. He has always been preferred by Tite over Roberto Firmino as he is a purer striker compared to the Liverpool man.
Jesus was admittedly poor in last year’s World Cup as it seemed that he never truly got going as the tournament progressed. Taking Neymar’s spot on the left wing will likely be David Neres who had a breakout season with Ajax, as they won a domestic double and enjoyed a dream run in the Champions League. Richarlison has been deployed on the right wing in many of the friendlies and is expected to take that starting role at the Copa America. Backing up Neres and Richarlison will be 23-year old Gremio winger Everton and Neymar’s injury replacement, Willian.
Both Everton and Willian were surprisingly called up over Lucas Moura, who was vital to Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League final run. It’s important to note that Willian did have 21 goal contributions this past season which is more than Moura’s 15. However, 10 of Willian’s goal contributions came in the Europa league against sides such as PAOK, Vidi, BATE Borisov, Malmo, Dynamo Kyiv, and Slavia Prague.
Moura, on the other hand, scored 10 goals in the Premier League and scored a famous hat-trick against Ajax in the semifinals to send Tottenham to the final. Willian is a decent player but Tite might come to regret not calling up Lucas if Brazil needs a vital goal in the late stages of a game.
That being said, many of the Selecao’s players have a lot to prove - whether it is rectifying the wrongs of the past or new players attempting to cement a legacy for the national team. It’s all or nothing for Tite and his boys this summer in their home country.