Soccer: Now what? The big question for Neymar-less Brazil

Soccer: Now what? The big question for Neymar-less Brazil
Brazilian soccer team player Neymar attends a training session in Santiago, Chile June 19, 2015. Brazil will face Venezuela in their Copa America 2015 soccer match on Sunday.
PHOTO: Reuters

SAO PAULO- The last time Brazil lost Neymar at a major soccer tournament they were humbled 7-1 by Germany at the 2014 World Cup and coach Dunga's task is to prevent a similar meltdown in their Copa America match against Venezuela on Sunday.

The Barcelona forward was banned for four games on Friday after receiving a straight red card and then insulting the referee after Brazil's 1-0 loss to Colombia two days earlier.

Brazil are appealing the ban, which will rule him out of the rest of the Copa, starting with their last group game against Venezuela.

Philippe Coutinho seems the most likely candidate to get a chance in the creative role for the five-time world champions and the Liverpool midfielder promised he was ready. "We are all prepared, focused on what we want," the 23-year old told reporters on Friday. "We have lost our main player but the group is strong and we are all focused on overcoming Neymar's loss in the next game." Coutinho has shown moments of brilliance at Liverpool this season and could justifiably complain he lacked support from underperforming colleagues as the side finished sixth in the Premier League. "It's the coach who decides who plays and who doesn't," he said. "Everyone here is ready if they get a chance to play. The most important thing is the group and whoever comes in will do their job." Yet Brazil's players said much the same thing when they lost Neymar after a tumultuous game against Colombia, in the quarter- finals of the 2014 World Cup.

In the next game they suffered their biggest ever World Cup reverse and their most embarrassing defeat.

They missed his influence and leadership on the field where they were ripped to pieces in the first half hour by Germany but they also fell apart psychologically.

They wore caps in support of their injured colleague on the bus to the game and then held up his shirt during an emotional display before the national anthems.

Coach Dunga will not stand for more of the same this time and will come down hard on anyone he believes is not mentally prepared to cope with Neymar's absence.

Venezuela, of course, are a much less daunting prospect than Germany.

Yet if Brazil do qualify for the quarter finals - and they have never lost a Copa America match to Venezuela - they will still face a tough task in the remaining games of what is an unpredictable tournament.

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