Brazil will begin their attempts to bounce back from a demoralizing Copa America exit when taking on Costa Rica in a friendly match at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena on Saturday. A year on from the humiliation of a 7-1 mauling at the hands of Germany in the semifinals of the World Cup on home soil, Brazil showed scant signs of progress in South America’s showpiece event.
Dunga was a widely unpopular choice to take the reins as coach for the second time following the World Cup. Yet he had at least restored some sense of resilience and respect with 10-straight friendly wins heading into the Cop America. Once in Chile, however, the team’s limitations were exposed. All too reliant on the individual brilliance of Neymar when he was on the field, Brazil’s lack of inspiration became yet more apparent following their star man’s suspension from the rest of the tournament in the group stage. Their exit arrived in the quarterfinals, when being punished for sitting back on an early lead thanks to an inexplicable handball in the box from Thiago Silva. Paraguay would go onto convert from the spot and then triumph on penalties.
Dunga was not made to pay for the team’s failure, but the former World Cup winning midfielder has seemingly ensured that Silva will. Having already been stripped of the captaincy by Dunga when he took charge, the Paris Saint-Germain skipper has now been ditched from the squad entirely for both the match with Costa Rica, and subsequent encounter against the United States next Tuesday.
Neymar, the man who succeeded Silva as captain, has had his own participation called into question after limping out of training on Wednesday. The Barcelona man did, though, train normally again on Thursday.
Less fortunate are Chelsea midfield pair Oscar and Ramires, Barcelona’s Dani Alves and Atletico Madrid left-back Filipe Luis, all of whom have had to pull out through injury. Their withdrawal has meant that Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, controversially omitted from the original squad, has been brought in. Also involved is Kaka. The veteran Orlando City playmaker has been called in after an absence from the national team of nearly a year. At the other end of the experience scale, Santos midfielder Lucas Lima appears in line to make his debut for the Seleção. And there may be a first appearance, too, for goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe.
Brazil are under pressure not only to bounce back from the Copa America, but to get into shape for the start of the grueling and ultra-competitive South American qualifying campaign next month. With the five-time world champions visiting Copa America winners Chile and runners-up Argentina in their first three games, it promises to be a tough baptism for Dunga’s men.
Brazil’s opponents also have World Cup qualifying on the horizon, with Costa Rica beginning in the penultimate round of Concacaf’s qualification schedule in November. And, like Brazil, Los Ticos also have huge question marks surrounding them. Little has gone right for Costa Rica since causing an upset by reaching the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup. After losing the mastermind of that success, Jorge Luis Pinto, Paulo Wanchope underwhelmed and eventually combusted spectacularly as his successor.
While the federation tolerated his failure on the pitch, including a last-eight exit at the Gold Cup this summer, Wanchope was compelled to step down last month after getting into fight while watching a Costa Rica Under-23 match from the stands. Former Costa Rica international Óscar Ramírez, previously in charge of local side Alajuelense, is the man now charged with leading the team forward. And he will dearly hope to secure Costa Rica’s first victory in 2015 ahead of World Cup qualifying getting underway.
His hopes have not been helped in that regard by being left without star man Keylor Navas. Earlier this week the goalkeeper had been set to leave Real Madrid to join Manchester United in a deal involving David de Gea moving in the opposite direction. But the transfer broke down after the papers weren’t submitted in time, and, following the upheaval, the Costa Rica federation has allowed Navas to sit out the match with Brazil, and friendly against Uruguay next Tuesday.
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. EDT
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