SAO PAOLO: Brazil expect to win every tournament they play, especially at home, but they go into next week’s Copa America without their talisman Neymar and lacking some of the sparkle that has long been their stock in trade.
They have not lost since Belgium dumped them out of the 2018 World Cup in the quarter-finals but their 10-game unbeaten run — with the exception of last week’s 7-0 drubbing of 10-man Honduras — has come largely without the usual flair.
Brazil’s preparations for the Copa have been overshadowed by Neymar — firstly the rape allegations against the striker, which he has denied, and then the ankle injury that ruled him out the tournament last week.
Tite’s squad is as good as any in the tournament but the coach is trying to manage a generational change and said that choosing his squad of 23 players was the “most difficult” task he had faced since taking over three years ago.
Apart from home advantage, they are fortunate to be in one of the easier groups with Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela. The big question will be how they cope without Neymar but his absence could be a blessing in disguise.
With the Paris St-Germain forward gone, there will be less of a circus atmosphere around the squad and the focus will be firmly on the pitch.
His teammates will want to show they can do it without their undisputed leader and they may also take the opportunity to show their solidarity and try to win the trophy for Neymar.
“We are playing in our own country, and expectations are high that we win,” said Tite when asked what can be expected from the team in the next three weeks. “But the expectation corresponds to how we perform. Are we going to win? I don’t know. But I want us to do the best we can.”