Firmino absent and Paquetá for Copa America opener in Brazil

SAO PAULO (AP) – Brazil start Lucas Paquetá in place of experienced Roberto Firmino against Venezuela in their Copa America opener on Sunday, coach Tite said.

Goalkeeper Alisson also replaces Ederson, and left-back Renan Lodi is in Alex Sandro’s place to take on an opponent who has been ravaged by COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

Brazil are the emergency hosts of a struggling Copa America that begins on Sunday after the withdrawal of original hosts Colombia and Argentina.

The Seleção-Venezuela opener will take place at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia.

Paquetá, who plays for Lyon, scored Brazil’s second goal in a 2-0 win over Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier this week. Firmino started this game, but his performance was far from impressive, like in the last games for Brazil.

Tite added on Saturday that he is launching Gabriel Jesus, Richarlison and Neymar as attackers – all three can play on the wings and as target men. Paquetá is expected to play as a midfielder.

The coach revealed he asked then Brazilian confederation president Rogério Caboclo not to host the Copa America even before it was assigned to Brazil as an emergency host. Caboclo was suspended on June 5 due to a separate sexual harassment complaint.

“I asked, the athletes asked, (the national team coordinator) Juninho asked before it was decided that he would be played in Brazil. We were loyal,” said an unusually outspoken Tite. “Before it was presented to the president (of Brazil), to the country, we said we wouldn’t like (play).

“They took us awhile, and then they decided, and we were exposed.”

Brazilian media have reported that some players are considering boycotting the Copa America due to the pandemic in Brazil, but others have focused on disagreements with Caboclo. The Brazilian players agreed to play midweek, but criticized organizers.

Venezuela called up 15 new players at the last minute after eight tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, a day before the game against Brazil. Coach José Peseiro has said he has no idea who will play. Three other coaching staff were also infected. None have been named.

The Copa America is divided into two groups of five teams. Group A includes Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay. Brazil is in Group B with Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. The best four from each group advance to the knockout phase.


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