Can Brazil regain their former glory at Copa America?

STRUGGLING THEIR WAY BACK TO THE TOP: Brazil's Neymar controls the ball during the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup South American Qualifiers' football match against Uruguay.


    Jun 01, 2016

    Can Brazil regain their former glory at Copa America?


    TWO years after their traumatic World Cup semi-final exit, Brazil are haunted by the past as they head into the Copa America Centenario aiming for their first title in nearly a decade.

    In previous eras, Brazil would arrive at the Copa America brimming with confidence, with the only debate revolving around who they could expect to face - and defeat - in the final.

    Between 1997 and 2007, Brazil won four out of five editions of the tournament, making them the most successful nation since 1975, when the Copa America began to be held regularly after an eight-year absence.

    Yet as Brazil prepare to embark on this year's tournament, the familiar swagger is gone.

    The humiliating 7-1 thrashing by Germany in 2014 has left a team in search of an identity, torn between a more pragmatic, defensive approach and the hardwired instincts towards flamboyance.

    Under the second managerial tenure of 1994 World Cup-winning captain Dunga, the results have been mixed.

    A quarter-final exit at last year's Copa America in Chile has been followed by a stuttering start to South America's marathon qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup.

    Brazil currently lie in sixth place after six matches, outside the qualifying positions.

    Their form has reflected the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Dunga's team, where they have produced flashes of attacking brilliance only to be undermined by defensive frailty.

    They were beaten by Chile in their opening qualifier and failed to convince in either of their two solitary wins against Venezuela and Peru.

    Against Uruguay in Recife in March, the old Brazil appeared to be back as they swept into a 2-0 lead inside the first 25 minutes.

    But an Edinson Cavani goal in the 30th minute punctured Brazil's fragile confidence, and after Luis Suarez made it 2-2 they spent much of the remainder of the game on the ropes.

    Four days later, another disjointed display saw Paraguay romp into a 2-0 lead, and Brazil needed a Dani Alves equaliser deep into stoppage time to scrape a 2-2 draw.

    Brazil will kick off their Group B campaign against Ecuador on Saturday at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

    "Hopefully now Brazil can get back to winning here," Dunga told reporters last week during a training camp.

    But Brazil's determination to win the only international title that has eluded them - an Olympic gold medal - has meant hard choices have had to be made.

    Neymar, their talismanic captain, will miss the Copa America in order to be available for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

    Dunga has made no secret of his desire to focus on the Olympics but is adamant that Brazil have enough quality to challenge for the Copa America.

    "Obviously we'd like to have Neymar here, but this is a top team," Dunga said.

    "Some of them are very young, but they have quality. This is an opportunity for these players to show they deserve to be on the first team."

    Other notable absentees include defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz, who both seem to have fallen out of favour, along with midfielder Oscar and injured Bayern Munich star Douglas Costa.