Despite injuries, Brazil expect Copa America success

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Copa America presents a mix of expectations, pressure and status for Brazil as the five-time World Cup champions prepared for their opener against Ecuador on Saturday.

Expectations from within are to win the tournament, which brings pressure. But Brazil’s biggest star, Neymar, is skipping the Copa America to play in the Olympics, which his nation hosts in August. His club, Barcelona, would not let him participate in both.

Brazil coach Dunga said each tournament carries the same weight.

“I want to win everything,” he said. “If the referee tosses the coin, I want to win that.”

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Brazil’s group includes Peru and Haiti, and it could face the host United States in the quarterfinals.

Five Brazilians withdrew from the Copa America because of injuries, including Douglas Costa and his replacement, former FIFA Player of the Year Kaka.

“We have others who are very qualified and have this great opportunity to play with their national squad,” Dunga said. “We are very motivated and very trusting of all of the players.”

Brazil won the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup but finished in fourth at home in the 2014 World Cup, when it was embarrassed with a 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals. At last year’s Copa America in Chile, the Selecao were eliminated by Paraguay on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals, and their FIFA ranking is a very un-Brazil-like seventh.

Brazil has never won a gold medal at the Olympics, which for men is limited to players under 23 except for three wild cards per team over the limit. But at the senior level, Brazil has won a record five World Cups.

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Its roster includes Hulk, Jonas, Lucas Moura, Philippe Coutinho and Dani Alves.

“It’s just our history,” Dunga said. “When you open the books, the players have to have it in their DNA to win. Victories translate to dynamic quality, technique, perfection. We have to play to win. … Some players have more experience, others not as much, but we in Brazil, when we come into the field, we wear the shirt and we all assume the pressure. That’s something we have to accept and work with that.”

Ecuador, ranked 13th, has had two fourth-place finishes in the Copa America, most recently in 1993, and none higher. Its roster includes Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero.

“They mark really well and are fast. It’s a team that knows how to play collectively,” Dunga said. “Ecuador is doing many good things. It’s a team that over time has adopted the right mentality with their coach. They have a collectively strong game. Those players have been playing together for a long time and they all know what each other wants to do.”