Brazil must replace Neymar. Who will fill the Selecao's massive void at the Copa America?
Neymar will not take part at the 2019 Copa America, an ankle injury sustained in a friendly match against Qatar on June 5 ending the superstar's hopes of leading Brazil to the title on home soil. Brazil's main man's absence poses a couple of major questions for manager Tite: Who replaces Neymar? And one more: Will he deliver?
To answer the first question, we identified the top remaining players from Brazil's 23-man roster and took into consideration Tite's preferences in regard to picking his team. The second question, on the other hand, is pure futurology.
The expectation for Neymar was redemption. Injured, he watched Germany's 7-1 win in the 2014 World Cup on television. In Russia, after a year of injuries and uncertainties, his side bowed out to Belgium in the quarterfinals, amid the controversy surrounding how often -- and sometimes easily -- he went to ground.
The Copa America 2019 in Brazil was the chance for the 27-year-old to shift the spotlight back on the field, but his preparation for the tournament lasted just 17 minutes, a hard foul against Qatar producing tears and resulting in the Paris Saint-Germain man limping off the pitch. Hours later, it was confirmed that he had sustained a ligament injury and he was out for the tournament. His Copa America had ended before it had even started.
Without Neymar, Tite still has some options at his disposal. Here's a list of players that Brazil are likeliest to turn to without their star as they seek to win South America's greatest prize on home soil.
Coutinho was amazing at Liverpool and enjoyed a nice World Cup, but was thoroughly disappointing for Barcelona this past season. In just a year and a half, Coutinho has gone from the most expensive player in the club's history to dispensable at the Camp Nou. Will he be able to regain his confidence here and be the player that once was capable of running through defenses and scoring from long range?
Verdict: He played a whole season for Barcelona on the left wing and may get the first crack at replacing Neymar. If he does, a spot opens up in midfield, but Coutinho's recent performances are not confidence inspiring.
It's a different position on the field, I know, but Paqueta -- who normally plays a little further back and participates in the initial stages of attacking play -- is also capable of playing on the wing. His first season with AC Milan started off well, before an injury sidetracked what could have been a near-perfect first season in Europe.
Verdict: Young Paqueta is capable of playing on the wing but would be playing out of position, as the Milan man is a more natural Coutinho replacement than a Neymar one.
Neres almost had the perfect season for Ajax: winning the Eredivisie and the Dutch Cup and losing in the semifinal of the Champions League while making the tournament's best XI. The 22-year-old winger has everything to become a marquee name in the next few years. Is he ready for it now, though?
Verdict: Played against Honduras and scored a beauty. His skills charm the manager and he looks like a viable option despite his inexperience internationally.
The youngster from Gremio is one of the best players in Brazil. He can dribble, has amazing pace and can shoot from distance. In other words, he possesses everything to make him Tite's choice. But, as with Neres, is Everton ready right now?
Verdict: He came in for Neymar after the injury but did not have any impact. To his favor, he plays in Brazil and knows the grounds, but he's not a frontrunner.
The Liverpool man is a much different player than Neymar but did loads at club level throughout the past two seasons. Firmino can create and score goals almost equally and has the versatility to play both in the middle or on the wing. The complete package, a late-season injury limited him down the stretch. Is he fully fit?
Verdict: He can perform from the left wing, but plays more like a central striker with the Selecao. He seems more likely to be a substitute for Gabriel Jesus, but if 100 percent, Firmino is capable of playing in every position in a front three.
Unlike Firmino and Neres, Jesus didn't have the best season. He was harshly criticised for his performances at the World Cup and had ups and downs at Manchester City. Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane had more chances than the Brazilian, with Jesus even asking Pep Guardiola to play centre-forward and not out wide. He looks far from an option for Neymar's spot.
Verdict: He is a striker that likes to play on both wings. Tite likes Jesus as a striker and as a striker only, so he looks like the least likely man to be in contention for Neymar's spot.
He had a nice season at Watford and then went to Everton and played even better, finishing as the Toffees' joint-top goal scorer alongside Gylfi Sigurdsson with 14. He's physical, has experience in big games and can score, and those traits put him right near the top of the list to fill Brazil's Neymar void. Can Richarlison shine in the Copa America, too?
Verdict: He could be the one for tough games because he also helps out the defense. Was one of the last to make the squad, but could jump the queue based on his latest performances.
Added to the roster after Neymar was ruled out with injury, Willian will be a man with a point to prove in Brazil. The 30-year-old had a very poor World Cup last summer, and with an uncertain club future, Willian will be hoping for a chance to strut his stuff here. Tite believes in him, and his ability from set pieces could become a factor at some stage.
Verdict: The veteran is not coming off his best season, but on his best day remains a real dangerous proposition for defenders. Neymar's injury opens the door for an unlikely redemption story for the Chelsea man and he will be champing at the bit to erase the nightmare that was the 2018 World Cup.