‘He likes challenges’: For Barcelona’s Neymar, Brazil captaincy can be catalyst at Copa America

'The statistics are there to show that when Neymar puts on the captain's armband, he takes a step forward' says Dunga of Barca star Neymar ahead of the Copa America.

Neymar shown celebrating a fourth goal as he captained Brazil to a friendly win over Japan in Singapore last October. Roslan Rahman / AFP / October 14, 2014
Powered by automated translation

A resurgent Brazil are determined to bury the memory of last year’s traumatic World Cup campaign as they prepare to regain their crown as the kings of South American football at the Copa America.

Brazil’s challenge at the World Cup on home soil was obliterated in a 7-1 semi-final mauling by eventual champions Germany, a result that was compared to the hosts’ infamous defeat to Uruguay in the climax of the 1950 tournament.

An emphatic 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands in the third place play-off only added to the mood of disarray surrounding Brazil as the world’s most successful footballing nation came to terms with its early exit.

But fast-forward nearly a year, and Brazil are heading into the Copa America in Chile with renewed confidence after a sequence of nine straight wins since the World Cup debacle under the guidance of former captain Dunga.

Dunga, who succeeded Luiz Felipe Scolari, has overseen a steady return to winning ways since his reappointment.

Brazil’s run of victories has included friendly wins over Colombia, Chile, Argentina and France, with Mexico becoming the latest victims in a 2-0 win in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

Dunga, who coached Brazil to their last Copa America win in 2007, believes the form of star striker Neymar is one of the keys to the revival.

One of Dunga’s first acts last year was to hand the captain’s armband to Neymar, and the 23-year-old Barcelona forward has thrived on the added responsibility.

“It is not a surprise, but the statistics are there to show that when Neymar puts on the captain’s armband, he takes a step forward,” Dunga said in March.

“He is a player who likes challenges. The more responsibility he has, the more he will develop. He is making history in European football.”

Neymar missed Sunday’s friendly with Mexico but will reunite with the squad bristling with confidence after scoring the final goal for Barcelona in their 3-1 Uefa Champions League final defeat of Juventus on Saturday.

Neymar’s late strike in Berlin was the final act of a superb season for the Spanish treble winners which saw him notch 39 goals.

Dunga believes Neymar’s goalscoring performance in the Champions League final augurs well for Brazil’s Copa America campaign.

“This is good for Brazilian football as a whole, having a player scoring in the final and winning the Champions League,” Dunga said.

While the core of the Brazil squad is the same as the team torn asunder by Germany, Dunga has successfully introduced several new players who could play a part in Chile.

Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred, Monaco defender Fabinho and Lazio’s attacking midfielder Felipe Anderson all featured in the win over Mexico on Sunday, which also saw Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho score his first international goal for Brazil.

“We are on the right track, though we haven’t got anywhere as yet. We must improve day by day individually and collectively,” Dunga said.

Brazil open their Group C campaign against Peru in Temuco on Sunday before a showdown with Colombia on June 17 in Santiago, a rematch of their stormy World Cup quarter-final last year which saw Neymar suffer a fractured vertebra.

They then face Venezuela on June 21.

If Brazil win Group C they will then face a quarter-final meeting with the runners-up from Group B, potentially either holders Uruguay or Argentina.

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE