2 July ~ Brazil arrived in Argentina for the Copa America looking to give the fans at home reason to cheer after the bitter disappointment of last year’s World Cup. Having taken over from Dunga in August 2010, coach Mano Menezes is heading into his first tournament with little doubt the next three-and-a-half weeks will be taken seriously. As hosts of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil do not have to qualify and will not play competitive football again until the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Only a handful of people gathered at the airport to see the team off to Argentina, a reflection of the how much support for the team has dipped since the World Cup failure when fans were unimpressed with Dunga’s preference for substance over style with focus on big, powerful players like Felipe Melo and Luis Fabiano. But Menezes is slowly reintroducing a more fluid approach based around small, quick forwards with the team’s bulk concentrated in the defence.
Brazil are aiming for a third successive Copa America title, but find their path blocked by their two traditional rivals. The Uruguay squad is the strongest for decades, while Argentina have gone 18 years without a major trophy and pressure is mounting to amend the situation on home soil – they had to come from behind to draw with Bolivia in last night's opening game. The hosts also have Lionel Messi, of course, although he has often been criticised for not producing his club form at international level.
Brazil play their opening match tomorrow against Venezuela and barring any last-minute injuries Menezes has settled on his best line-up. After experimenting with various formations over the last ten months, he will use a 4-2-3-1 based around the pace and guile of the Santos pair of Ganso and Neymar, plus Pato and Robinho. Still just 27, Robinho is the second most experienced player in the squad with 84 caps, behind Lucio with 101. Robinho has been captain on five occasions recently and seem to have revelled in the responsibility and freedom handed to him.
Robinho is also the idol of Brazil’s biggest draw at the tournament, the 19-year-old Neymar who is fresh from Santos’ triumph in the Copa Libertadores to which he contributed six goals. If the teenager’s blistering form reaps rewards, you can bet on a few more people turning up at the airport to welcome the Copa home. Robbie Blakeley