Will Fabinho, Lucas Moura snubs come back to haunt Tite, Brazil?
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Copa America, CONMEBOL’s international football tournament, returns for its 46th edition in a matter of days, with South American giants Brazil hosting for the first time in thirty years.
The home nation head into the tournament under overwhelming pressure to perform. The 2018 World Cup in Russia was not a successful one for the Selecao as a strong Belgium side ended their aspirations of historic sixth success in the competition at the quarter-final stage.
Manager Tite kept his job, but he won’t be so lucky if another disaster occurs. Luiz Felipe Scolari felt the wrath of the Brazilian Football Confederation after World Cup defeat on home soil in 2014, while Dunga was dismissed after failing to negotiate the group stage in the last edition of the Copa America. The same fate no doubt awaits the current boss if he fails to deliver here.
He must get the key decisions right, but one major factor is out of his control. Paris Saint-Germain star and Brazilian poster boy, Neymar, had been stripped of the captaincy. However, he'll now miss the tournament altogether after suffering an ankle ligament injury in a warm-up friendly against Qatar.
One choice Tite has already made, though, was to choose a squad of 23 from possibly 60 players who would likely challenge for a spot in most other countries’ respective national teams. Brazil has always been blessed with a vast array of talent across the pitch, so he was always going to have a selection headache, but snubs for Premier League pair Fabinho and Lucas Moura has turned heads aplenty...
The former has just lifted the Champions League trophy with Liverpool and, after a slow start on Merseyside, has proven to be a key player in a successful season for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
Fabinho played a major role in the Anfield club’s excellent defensive record this term, sitting in front of and providing protection to a back four that conceded just 22 goals in the English top flight this season. Although, admittedly, it helps when you’ve got the likes of Virgil van Dijk in defence and compatriot Alisson in between the posts.
With the national team, though, Fabinho is regularly used as a right-back as opposed to the holding-midfield role we have become accustomed to seeing him fulfil for Liverpool. PSG's Dani Alves and Corinthians’ Fagner are in the squad, with new Real Madrid signing Eder Militao also able to provide cover. It’s likely Tite simply felt there was no room to accommodate him.
Lucas Moura, also a Champions League finalist with Tottenham Hotspur, is another who can feel hard done-by to miss Copa America 2019. Notwithstanding a lull in the middle of this campaign, his lightning start to the season and goals towards the end were key in Spurs’ top-four Premier League finish and first ever European Cup final.
Fifteen goals in all competitions is a handy return in his first full season in English football, but he's another unfortunate victim of squad size limits. Richarlison, David Neres and Everton (the Gremio forward, not Richarlison’s employers) are the wide attackers selected, while the likes of Moura, Malcom, Douglas Costa, Felipe Anderson and Vinicius Junior were all worthy of consideration.
That said, Moura could have been called up to replace Neymar when he pulled out of the squad. Instead, the boss decided to choose Chelsea attacker Willian, providing proof that the Spurs ace wasn't even 'the best of the rest'.
Fabinho and Moura’s participation in the Champions League final is unlikely to have swayed Tite’s choice. There is a full fortnight between that game and Brazil’s opener against Bolivia, while the rest of the tournament goes on for another three weeks after. Tiredness was not a relevant factor.
Only Tite and his staff can know the true reason behind the selection choice, but they had better make sure that they got it right. If not, we’ll be seeing a new man in charge of the Selecao come August.