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Hosts looking for flying start
There are a few things Brazil does better than any other country. Beaches, samba, corruption… and we should really add hosting the Copa América to the list. The Seleção have won on each of the four occasions they have played this tournament on home soil, meaning expectations are understandably high heading into the 2019 edition. And with so many of their rivals in transition, they are strong favourites to make it five from five.
Yet while the decision to maintain Tite in charge after the World Cup ensured a rare period of stability, all is not perfect. Neymar’s injury has deprived Brazil of their one genuine world-class player, and performances over the last year have been largely listless. Tite’s honeymoon period is over; his job might even come under threat if things go awry this summer.
In Neymar’s absence, much will turn on a trio of Premier League forwards. At least two of Gabriel Jesus, Richarlison and Roberto Firmino will start, with creative support from Philippe Coutinho, who will be keen to put his club woes behind him. Daniel Alves, who missed Russia 2018 through injury, will captain the side.
Bolivia cast as sacrificial lambs
Brazil’s first opponents don’t tick many of the boxes for a potential banana skin. Bolivia are low on star quality, have a poor recent record in this tournament – seven first-round exits in eight editions – and aren’t particularly good travellers. They have pulled off the odd shock result against the continent’s big boys over the years, but usually at nose-bleed altitude in La Paz.
In Marcelo Moreno, La Verde do at least have one forward who will strike a little fear into Brazilian hearts: he helped Cruzeiro to the Brasileirão title in 2014, and still has a nose for goal despite his advancing years. But elsewhere the squad is thin on matchwinners, meaning much will turn on the ability of coach Eduardo Villegas – a serial league winner back home but new to the international scene – to organise his defence.
Brazil are rated as [1.09] favourites, which is probably to be expected given that they have home advantage and, despite a few wobbles over the last 12 months, still boast an impressive record under Tite. The Seleção have won 29 of 36 games under his management and will likely add another victory here.
It could be closer than many expect, however. Bolivia held Brazil to a goalless draw last time the sides played (at altitude, granted) and the Seleção have tended to be efficient rather than spectacular of late. The 7-0 won over Honduras has an asterisk next to it because their opponents played a big portion of the game with 10 men, and opening-night nerves may play a role here.
The best ploy, then, is to give the Match Odds and Asian handicap a swerve, and back Brazil to win to nil – or combine this with a goalscorer bet using the Same Game Multi tool on the Sportsbook. They have kept clean sheets in 27 of 36 games (75%) under Tite and can blunt a mediocre attack.
Jesus walking tall again
Part of the reason why Brazil didn’t go further in Russia was that Gabriel Jesus wasn’t firing. But the Manchester City man has shown signs that he is recapturing the form that made him Tite’s go-to striker in the first place: he has five goals in his last three outings in the yellow jersey, and can be backed at [3.5] to open the scoring at the Morumbi.
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