A humiliating defeat in their own World Cup will, despite their best efforts, never be forgotten by Brazil. In his second spell in charge, former captain Dunga has had to pick up the pieces of the nightmare in Belo Horizonte and his first shot at competitive redemption begins here as they take on Peru in their opening Copa America match.
Performances in friendlies have at least been encouraging, with the recent 2-0 victory over Mexico the latest in a series of positive results, but those matches will not have been able to replicate the pressure Brazil will be under here. As was the case a year ago, a lot of responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Neymar, who has matured somewhat in the last 12 months and allowed his considerable star quality to help Barcelona win the treble.
His two attacking partners of 2014, Fred and Hulk, will be nowhere to be seen in this campaign, nor will the likes of Jo, Paulinho and Chelsea playmaker Oscar. Instead, this may be the tournament where players such as Willian, Douglas Costa and Philippe Coutinho begin to establish themselves. In defence, it will be interesting if the faith is kept with David Luiz, as Paris St. Germain teammate Marquinhos is a serious threat to his place in the starting XI.
There will inevitably be some nerves, but Brazil should be capable of getting the job done against Peru, whose often struggle to compete with the heavyweights of South American football. They have selected an ageing squad for this competition, including 36-year-old Bayern Munich striker Claudio Pizarro, who along with Schalke 04 star Jefferson Farfan and captain Pablo Guerrero provide their biggest attacking threat.
Earlier on Sunday, Colombia kick off their campaign against Venezuela, who were the surprise package four years ago. Jose Pekerman’s side look to be going from strength to strength after achieving their best ever performance at a World Cup last year, reaching the quarter-finals only to fall short against Brazil.
Like many of their rivals in this competition, they have an array of striking talent to pick from, and James Rodriguez will be the man they look to primarily for goals after his superb exploits of the last 12 months, establishing himself as one of the stars of world football. Meanwhile, Jackson Martinez has had a superb season with FC Porto and is more than used to hitting the back of the net on a regular basis, with hopes also high that Radamel Falcao can rediscover the form that made him one of the world’s most feared attackers.
Such forward prowess has the potential to overwhelm Venezuela, who have not quite managed to make the most of their success against the odds in 2011. That said, they still have players capable of causing problems for the Colombian defence, nobody more so than Zenit St. Petersburg striker Salomon Rondon. Realistically, however, they will probably be battling Peru for third place and a possible route to the quarter-finals.
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