Brazil goes to Copa America with teenager Endrick up front and more unknowns than knowns

Vinicius Júnior will be Brazil’s main star at the tournament from June 20 to July 15.
Brazil's Endrick celebrates after scoring the opening goal during a friendly soccer match between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium in London, Saturday, March 23, 2024.
Brazil's Endrick celebrates after scoring the opening goal during a friendly soccer match between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium in London, Saturday, March 23, 2024.(Photo | AP)

SAO PAULO: Whatever Brazil does at the Copa America in the United States, it will come as a surprise to many.

Dorival Júnior, who took over as coach in January, has been in charge for only two friendlies and his squad for the South American soccer championship so far has provided little evidence of his plans. Added to that is the absence of aging superstar Neymar, now 32, who will be out with an ACL injury.

A few Brazil team traits have been easily recognizable over the last decades. Win or lose, there’s often sharp dribblers up front, right and left backs that play from one end to the other, and strong defenders in place to score goals.

Not this time.

The one exception is Vinicius Júnior, one of the favorites for the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League title with Real Madrid and scoring in the final against Borussia Dortmund. He will be Brazil’s main star at the tournament from June 20 to July 15.

Brazil watchers don’t expect the Copa America to provide much evidence of what the team will look like at the 2026 World Cup — and to most in the country, that is the only tournament that matters. But the continental tournament is likely to give the new coach a chance to test young talents like strikers Endrick, who will be wearing the team’s historic No. 9, and Rodrygo as starters.

“It is utopia to say we are not thinking about results,” Júnior said on May 10, adding he has enough players to pick from despite the absences of Casemiro, Richarlison and recently injured goalkeeper Ederson.

“It doesn’t matter the age, the club, or anything else that is not each athlete’s moment. We lost 14 players to injury in the previous call, some more after they came to us. Those who played gave a great response then.”

Brazil beat England 1-0 at Wembley Stadium in March, and a few days later drew 3-3 with Spain at the Santiago Bernabeu. Júnior’s team looked quicker in transitions that the team assembled by predecessor Fernando Diniz throughout 2023. Still, those two matches did not give any hints about the team’s future.

After upcoming friendlies against the United States and Mexico, Brazil will face Costa Rica, Paraguay and Colombia in Group D at the Copa America.

Endrick’s Time

Endrick scored Brazil’s winner at Wembley and also netted in Madrid, which will become his home next season. The 17-year-old striker is widely expected to be in the starting lineup at Copa America, his first major event with the senior team.

“I am glad for the person I am becoming. I don’t put my head down, I never give up easily,” Endrick said in an interview with TV Globo that aired on the day Júnior called him up for the national team. “Now I need to work well here at the club so I can get well to the senior team.”

Endrick picked up a right thigh injury while playing for Palmeiras in May. This year, he has scored six goals for his club and the national team in 24 matches. Although that mark is far from impressive, most agree that the teenager deserves to be the team’s target man for the foreseeable future.

If things don’t work out, Júnior might be forced to use Rodrygo as a center forward. He could also assemble a Real Madrid trio up front, with Vinicius and Rodrygo on the wings and Endrick as a center forward.

Paquetá Under Fire

With Neymar out and several inexperienced players in the squad, midfielder Lucas Paquetá has a chance to carry the team to the title and, maybe, revive his chances of leaving West Ham for Manchester City, as initially planned last year.

Paquetá, however, was charged with misconduct by English soccer authorities on May 23 after being accused of deliberately receiving yellow cards during Premier League matches to influence betting markets. The case centers around four matches from November 2022 to August 2023. The midfielder received a yellow card in each of them.

Júnior has repeatedly said he sees the 26-year-old Paquetá as one of the potential foundations of his team, but Diniz did not include the midfielder in three previous national team callups because of the investigations in England.

Paquetá denies any wrongdoing. If found guilty by English soccer authorities, he would still have several appeals at his disposal.

New Coach, New Players

Several relatively unknown players are in the squad.

Left back Wendell has a real chance of becoming a starter in a position that has been open since Marcelo left the national team. Defender Beraldo, who quickly entered Paris Saint-Germain’s starting lineup, will fight for a place with Éder Militão, who recently has recovered from injury.

Brazil’s starting midfield for the Copa America could also include Ederson, who just won the Europa League with Atalanta, and Wolverhampton’s João Gomes. Also little known at home, strikers Pepê, Evanilson and Savinho will fight for a place in the team if Raphinha fails to deliver.

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