August 22, 2019
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Neymar-less Brazil prepares Copa America kick-off vs Bolivia

By Carlos Meneses Sanchez

Sao Paulo, Jun 13 (efe-epa).- Brazil's soccer team is set to host the 14th Copa America.

The national team will begin by playing Bolivia in the inaugural match of the tournament, with a set objective: to prove the side is still a favorite for the title, even without Neymar Jr.

The team, known as "Canarinho" (Little Canary), is seeking its ninth continental crown that would prove it is the best South American national team.

This year's victory would take place in front of its own fans many of whom still doubt the potential of the squad after the country was eliminated from the 2018 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals at the hands of Belgium.

History, however, is in favor of Brazil which hosts the Copa America for the fifth time - following the editions of 1919, 1922, 1949 and 1989 - claiming the title in all of the previous four soccer tournaments.

The team, which last won the Copa America in 2007, has drawn a supposedly easy Group A with Venezuela and Peru, in addition to Brazil's first opponent, Bolivia.

Preparation for the tournament was not easy, especially after Neymar joined the camp in late May.

Since his arrival, talks about controversies and scandals have been more prevalent than soccer play.

As a result of attacking a fan in France, the Paris Saint-Germain winger lost the captain's armband to veteran player Daniel Alves.

Neymar is also facing a rape allegation and sustained an ankle injury during the team's first friendly match against Qatar.

His place has been taken by Chelsea's Willian with pundits and fans alike questioning the team's possible reaction to compensate for the absence of its main star and one of its all-time goal scorers.

Meanwhile, the Ajax 22-year-old rising winger, David Neres, has already gained the necessary reputation needed to fill Neymar's shoes and Neres is looking at being included in the starting lineup against Bolivia.

Neres, who is one of the youngest players on Brazil's squad, started to excel showing prolific speed, outstanding dribbling skill and voracious hunger ahead of his first major tournament with the squad.

"With courage, everything is doable," he stated during his first days at the team's preparation camp, to which he has been called for at the expense of Real Madrid's young forward, Vinicius Jonior, 18.

The new number seven played for 30 minutes during his side's 2-0 win over Qatar on June 6, and then played the whole 90 minutes in the Brazilian 7-0 win over Honduras three days later, when he notched his first ever international goal.

So far the consequences of Neymar's absence seem to be minimal considering the recent two friendly victories.

All eyes are focused on the status of Barcelona midfielder Arthur who suffered a strong blow to the knee against Honduras, resulting in him not participating in group practice over the course of two days.

The severity of his injury has not yet been announced but he probably will stay on his team's roster for the tournament but is likely to miss the inaugural encounter.

Napoli's Allan or Manchester City's Fernandinho will be possible substitutions for Arthur in this case.

Bolivia, which was the 1963 Copa America champion, is preparing for the upcoming match against Brazil as if it were the battle between David and Goliath.

The teams have played each other 10 times in the continental competition, with Brazil leading by 8-2 victories and a 40-13 goal lead.

Bolivia has been struggling with injuries, as coach Eduardo Villegas was obligated to call up Ramiro Vaca to substitute forward Rodrigo Ramallo, who has been ruled out of the tournament due to a third-degree sprain of his left ankle.

The national team had to postpone its Wednesday training over a visit by the medical commission of the CONMEBOL Anti-Doping Unit.

Two days earlier, the Bolivians complained about practicing on a reduced pitch at the Sao Paulo training camp, as the team practice coincided with a practice by the Brazilian soccer team Sao Paulo FC.

Bolivia's usual goalkeeper, Carlos Lampe, seems to have a clear strategy to make things difficult for Brazil, that is; make the Brazilians feel the pressure of being the host team.

-Possible lineups:

.Brasil: Alisson; Daniel Alves, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Filipe Luís; Casemiro, Allan (or Fernandinho), Philippe Coutinho; David Neres, Richarlison and Roberto Firmino.

Head coach: Adenor Leonardo Bacchi 'Tite'

.Bolivia: Carlos Lampe; Diego Bejarano, Luis Haquin, Adrián Jusino, Marvin Bejarano; Leonel Justiniano, Fernando Saucedo, Raúl Castro, Alejandro Chumacero, Erwin Saavedra; and Marcelo Moreno Martins.

Head coach: Eduardo Villegas

Referee: Néstor Pitana (Argentina), who will be assisted by countrymen; Hernán Maidana and Juan P. Belatti.

Venue: Morumbi stadium, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Time: Friday, 9.30 pm (local time), (Saturday, 12.30 am GMT). EFE

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