Wednesday, 10 June 2015

No Neymar, no party: Signs of life for Brazil ahead of Copa America, but one man remains key to their chances

It may have been a Sunday night, but the celebrations were in full swing. Back in Catalonia following their historic Champions League success against Juventus, the Barcelona players bounced up and down, embraced and took it in turns to whip up the fans who had flocked to the Camp Nou to greet their returning heroes.

At the centre of things was Neymar. Sporting a treble-winner's vest he seemed to have customised himself – his teammates all wore T-shirts – and having swapped his "100% Jesus" Karate Kid headband for a baseball cap, the striker threw himself into full party mode, swapping jokes with Lionel Messi and clowning around with Dani Alves. He had never looked more at home.

Few would have begrudged him that moment of release, coming as it did after the most important game of his young career. But that was not to say that his absence was not keenly felt elsewhere as the balmy evening gave way to night in Catalonia.

Some 8,800 kilometers away in Sao Paulo, Brazil were kicking off against Mexico. On the face of it, this was the ultimate thankless task, a meaningless friendly imbued with greater significance due to the context: this was the Seleção's first match on home soil since the 2014 World Cup.

Read my latest ESPN piece, on Brazil's Copa América preparations, here.

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