By Samindra Kunti in Rio de Janeiro
June 14 – Brazil and Bolivia will kick off the Copa America tonight in a tournament that anyone could win but which has failed to generate much interest in the host nation so far.
With Brazil hosting their first Copa America since 1989, the Selecao is under under pressure to win the continental championship after two disappointing World Cups, first at home in 2014 and again last year in Russia. Brazil last won the Copa America in 2007 but they will be without their talisman Neymar, who had to pull out of the tournament with injury. Off the field he faces accusations of rape that have dominated the news cycle in Brazil.
“There’s more talk about Neymar (in the media) than there is talk about him within the squad,” said Brazil coach Tite. “Within the squad we are focused on our preparations. I would never want to be in this situation of playing without Neymar, a top-three player in the world, but we have to be prepared.”
For Brazil and the other South Americans it will be their first competitive action since the World Cup, and with the exception of Tite and Brazil, who are expected to win the title, the South American teams will use the tournament as a stepping stone for the World Cup qualifiers which will get underway next year.
On Saturday, Argentina and Lionel Messi open their campaign against Colombia. The game marks a competitive return to the national team for Messi following Russia 2018. The Barcelona star has lost two previous Copa America finals. In 2015 and 2016 the Albiceleste misfired twice from the penalty spot to hand victory to Chile. In Brazil, the Argentinians, however, are not expected to reach the final under caretaker coach Scaloni.
Qatar play Paraguay on Sunday at the Maracana. Felix Sanchez won the Asian Cup with Qatar in swashbuckling style in January, defeating Japan 3-1 in the final. This tournament will likely represent another step up, going toe-to-toe for the first time with some of the world’s most reputed and strongest teams.
So far Brazilians have not been buying into the tournament with tickets sales generally poor. Organisers have expressed concern about Japan vs Equador and Venezuela vs Bolivia, two fixtures in Belo Horizonte which have sold fewer than 5,000 tickets each. Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez however insisted that the governing body won’t lower the prices in a bid to sell more tickets and fill the stadiums.
“There are 26 games,” said Dominguez at a news conference. “Some are sold out, which has generated a historic record of gate receipts. Regrettably, there are matches with less public. But I believe that when you get closer to game day, sales will improve. It’s the culture of South America.”
“Changing prices is not a policy I like. There is reason to believe that prices were established in this way.”
Dominguez also confirmed that Qatar and Australia have been invited for the 2020 Copa America which could be co-hosted by Colombia and Argentina.
Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru
Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Qatar
Japan, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1566628496labto1566628496ofdlr1566628496owedi1566628496sni@o1566628496fni1566628496