A Neymar-less Brazil is still the main favorite to emerge victorious out of this month’s Copa América, but as football has shown us over the years, favoritism means nothing once the referee blows his whistle. So how will the 5-time world champions cope while deprived of their biggest star over the last decade?
To say that Brazil has not won the Copa América since 2007 is an understatement.
In fact, the dramatic penalty shootout win over Uruguay in the semi-final of the 2007 edition was the last time the South American giants have reached the top four.
The following tournaments led to two straight frustrating quarter-finals exists against Paraguay, before an absolutely shocking group stage exit in 2016 – a result that immediately led to manager Carlos Dunga’s dismissal and the appointment of Adenor “Tite” Bacchi’s.
The same Tite who now faces the challenge of entering his first major tournament with Neymar. Necessary changes neede to be done, and it seems that the manager has finally made up his mind.
It is Philippe Coutinho who will take Neymar’s role as the technical leader, while Brazil are expected to operate in a 4-2-3-1 system for the first time ever under Tite.
He also lost Barcelona’s Arthur for the opened Bolivia this Friday in Sao Paulo (kick-off at 00:30 GMT).
With that in mind, it is 90% confirmed that Alisson; Dani Alves (captain), Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Filipe Luis; Casemiro, Allan (Fernandinho); Richarlison, Coutinho, David Neres, and Firmino will start for the Canarinhos.
Who are Brazil’s key players?
Dani Alves: Brazil has failed to produce the next great right back, which means that grandpa Alves is still the best at his position, despite being way below his peak. The PSG-man is by far the best play-maker in the team, and his offensive contribution is crucial, as demonstrated by his two assists in the last two friendlies. However, his defensive duties leave a lot to be desired, which may be the reason why Tite has opted to play Richarlison on his least-favored right flank so that he could track back and give offensive freedom to Alves.
Casemiro: There is not a shadow of a doubt that Casemiro is currently irreplaceable in the lineup. The defeat to Belgium in Russia 2018 highlighted the consequences of his absence. The Madridista picked up an unnecessary yellow in a meaningless friendly against 10-men Honduras, leaving Brazil fans wondering what may happen if he gets himself suspended ahead of a crucial Copa match.
Coutinho: The key player in the sense that Brazil’s success depends so much on which version of Philippe we will see. In Neymar’s absence, Brazil needs him more than ever to step up and operate as a number 10 – despite the fact he wears the number 11 shirt.
Overall, Brazil are indeed still the main candidates to win the title on home soil – they did so in the three previous times they hosted Copa America. It all depends on Alves’ fitness and defensive awareness, Casemiro avoiding silly bookings and Coutinho playing like his old Liverpool days.
Verdict for game one: Brazil 3-0 Bolivia.