By: Steve Mitchell
A Neymar inspired Brazil came from behind to beat Peru in their opening fixture of the 2015 Copa America whilst Colombia suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Venezuela
After a fabulous first season in Spain with his all-conquering Barcelona team, people would have been forgiven for thinking that Neymar would come into this tournament a little jaded. The 23-year-old superstar has pretty much been playing football continuously for the past 12 months but his performance on Sunday evening against Peru proved to any doubters that he is one of the world’s great players.
Scorer of his country’s first goal and playing a huge role in the injury-time winner, Neymar did more than banish the blues of that World Cup semi-final humiliation last summer against Germany, he sent a warning shot to the rest of the competition that his Brazil are determined to take the crown of Copa America champions for the first time since 2007.
Highly fancied Colombia were surprisingly beaten on Sunday afternoon by tournament outsiders Venezuela in Rancagua. The match was a bad tempered affair and the country’s midfield talisman, James Rodriguez failed to stamp his authority on the game unlike his Brazilian counterpart. It was a bad day at the office for coach José Pekerman and his team with other big name players such as Manchester United striker Radamel Falcao and Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca largely ineffective throughout.
The Key Men
Both Neymar and Rodriguez will be pivotal for their respective countries on Wednesday evening in Santiago and the 23-year-old Real Madrid midfielder has been quick to comment that “playing Brazil could be good for us” adding that “I expect the game to be more open, this will generate more space for us”. Space is something that Neymar thrives in and alongside Fred and the impressive Willian Brazil could even at this early stage, eliminate one of their main rivals for the title.
Pekerman has already stated that he will stick with the same flexible 4-4-2 system which effectively has two holding midfielders operating in front of the back four. He will, in all probability, leave this responsibility once again to Edwin Valencia and Aston Villa’s Carlos Sánchez with Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado playing a more advanced role behind Falcao and Bacca.
Brazil coach Dunga also looks set to name an unchanged side for the crunch match in this section. The only real selection headache for the former World Cup winning captain seems to be whether to keep faith with 30-year-old Diego Tardelli in attack or replace him with Sunday’s match winning substitute Douglas Costa of Shakhtar Donetsk.
Our Probable Formations:
Brazil (4-2-3-1) Jefferson; Filipe Luis, David Luiz, Miranda, Dani Alves; Fernandinho, Elias; Neymar, Fred, Willian; Tardelli
Colombia (4-4-2) Ospina; Armero, Murillo, Zapata, Zúñiga; Valencia, Sánchez, Rodriguez, Cuadrado; Falcao, Bacca
Head to Head
Colombia have never beaten Brazil in tournament football. In 12 previous meetings, the eight time Copa America winners have won seven and there have been five draws. The two teams squared up to each other in last year’s World Cup Quarter-Finals, the host country running out 2-1 winners.