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Under-fire Brazil hopes Neymar and history will bring fresh hope after Copa America failure

The squad and its all-time leading scorer weren't all that focused on the Copa when it started, but they will desperately need each other in two years if they want a different outcome at the next World Cup.

Under-fire Brazil hopes Neymar and history will bring fresh hope after Copa America failure
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Brazil's Raphinha and Endrick leave the pitch after their team’s loss to Uruguay 

SAO PAULO: When Brazil was knocked out of the Copa America quarterfinals by Uruguay on Saturday night in Las Vegas, Neymar wept for his distressed teammates while at a samba concert in Brazil.

The squad and its all-time leading scorer weren't all that focused on the Copa when it started, but they will desperately need each other in two years if they want a different outcome at the next World Cup.

So far, there are few signs Brazil and Neymar will re-engage in time to make a meaningful difference.

Neymar was never going to the Copa after he ruptured the ACL in his left knee last October. Vinicius Junior, Brazil's top scorer in the Copa with two, missed the Uruguay quarterfinal because of a suspension. And teenage sensation Endrick didn't find the net during the tournament.

Pre-Copa expectations of Brazil winning a first title in 17 years were low. Not with the team lying sixth in South America World Cup qualifying, not without Neymar, and not with World Cup champion Argentina lying in wait. But a goal-less draw with Costa Rica, getting outplayed by Colombia, and failing to score against 10-man Uruguay was worse than expected.

“It is not the first time that they say we are finished, but believe it, we will win again,” the Brazilian Football Confederation said on its social media channels on Monday, in a rare public acknowledgement of the squad's shortcomings. “We are the national team that has won the most in the history of the game. But losing is also part of our history.”

Brazilian pundits, former footballers and analysts say the team can regroup, but wonder whether coach Dorival Júnior — who has had the job only since January — is the right man to lead that process.

They also regard Neymar as wasting his talent in Saudi Arabia far from the big leagues and overly focused on his private life. They also point to Brazil wasting a full year under interim coach Fernando Diniz, allegedly because CBF executives were waiting for Carlo Ancelotti to quit Real Madrid.

“We need to speed it up after this Copa America because we are starting (World Cup preparations) now,” said TV Globo pundit Júnior, who played for Brazil's 1982 World Cup team. “France has the same coach for years, many of the same players. Spain was very much starting like we were and now they are ahead. Argentina is aging, but still very hard to beat. Brazil is dropping well behind.”

Nostalgic fans point to 2001 to believe Brazil can turn things around quickly. That year, Brazil under new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was dumped from the Copa quarterfinals by Honduras. That embarrassment made supporters believe Brazil had no hope for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

Brazil's then-star Ronaldo missed that Copa but, along with a team overhaul, recovered from his second ACL injury to lead the team to its fifth World Cup star.

Several Brazil players damaged their 2026 hopes at the Copa. Others, such as goalkeeper Alisson, defender Danilo, midfielder João Gomes and striker Raphinha under-performed, and their jobs are under extra pressure.

“It was an honor for me to be with this squad, there was a lot of work, professionalism and effort,” Danilo said after the quarterfinals exit. “This young team showed it could achieve great things. I just hope that people are a little more patient.”

In his recovery from the ACL injury, the 32-year-old Neymar has become an even more divisive figure at home. He had spats with celebrities, politicians, and fellow footballers. Supporters started arguing against his return to the national team.

But following the team's poor showing at the Copa, Brazilian analysts say Neymar was the biggest Brazilian winner from the ongoing tournament and remains key to the team's future.

“Neymar is one of the greats of world soccer, and God willing he will continue to be,” coach Júnior told ESPN. “We need patience for him to come back at his best. He is a very important player for us and we need to give him enough time, we do not need to speed this up.”

A source at the CBF told The Associated Press it is unlikely that Neymar will return for the next two World Cup qualifiers in September. The source spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

With or without Neymar, Júnior said Brazil will be much stronger at the World Cup.

“Two years from now, the same people who are speaking too much might have to swallow another big achievement of our national team,” the coach said. “Be calm and patient, follow our work being developed. I wish I could have delivered a better result at this Copa America but this is a process.”

AP
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