Locked in a four-way tie and in danger of missing out on the quarterfinals, Brazil face an upset-minded Venezuela squad without the services of superstar talisman Neymar in Group C action of the Copa America Sunday at Estadio Monumental in Santiago, Chile.
The Barcelona striker has been suspended for the rest of the Copa America tournament after he kicked the ball at Colombia’s Pablo Armero following the stunning 1-0 loss to Los Cafeteros, and may have headbutted another player intentionally. Neymar was initially suspended for two matches by the Copa America disciplinary board, but the South American Football Confederation increased the punishment to four games, effectively ending his tournament campaign. Neymar can appeal the decision.
The loss, coupled with Peru’s victory over Venezuela, created a massive logjam in the group, with all four teams owning three points and identical 1-1 records. Brazil and Peru are currently on top with two goals scored and two allowed, but the Venezuelans have an outside chance to bump off one of the tournament’s massive favorites.
Brazil manager Dunga didn’t condemn Neymar’s uncharacteristic actions after the match, and actually said he believed referee Enrique Osses played a role in the minor fiasco. It was a sentiment teammate and defender Dani Alves also shared, and went so far as to suggest unfair treatment by “everyone” in the tournament and perhaps dirty play by Colombia.
"Referees have to stop thinking that they are the stars," Alves said. "The stars are not them -- they are there to control the game. We are used to this in South America -- everyone here is against Brazil."
Nevertheless, La Selecao and Dunga will turn to 31-year-old Robinho and his 27 career international goals, and some likely help from the midfield for scoring. Willian figures to play a more prominent role, but Dunga may choose to give some of his younger players a chance like Casemiro and Philippe Coutinho.
Venezuela, hoping to build on their semifinal appearance four years ago with manager and team captain Juan Arango at the helm, lacked some attacking creativity in the loss to Peru but they were severely limited when defender Fernando Amorebieta was issued a red card. They were held to only two total shots, which had more to do with their failure to gain and maintain possession.
Neymar’s glaring absence does make the scoring load a bit easier on veteran forwards Nicolas Fedor and Salomon Rondon, who’s combined for 23 goals in their international careers.
Kickoff time: Sunday, 5:30 p.m. EDT
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