Brazil select battle-tested Copa America squad as host nation expects Selecao victory
It was a huge talking point in the Brazilian media: Would Neymar be dropped from Brazil's squad for the Copa America after lashing out at a fan after the French Cup final?
Last year Tite left Juventus winger Douglas Costa out of a squad in punishment for spitting at an opponent during a Serie A match. Would the same criteria apply to the captain?
The answer, of course, was "no." There is much more at stake now. Tournament hosts Brazil are under huge pressure to win the Copa, which kicks off on June 14. History calls. The long-term story is that they have won the trophy on all four occasions they have staged it. The short-term problem is that their recent tournament record is so poor; in the past three World Cups and three Copas, they have only reached one semifinal, and no one needs reminding of the score.
With the stakes so high -- and his job probably on the line -- Tite retained Neymar as his captain and will use private conversations to deal with the problem of the Paris Saint-Germain star's outbursts.
The importance of the competition is clear from the composition of the 23-man squad that Tite announced in Rio de Janeiro on Friday. Some coaches will use the Copa to experiment. Tite does not have that luxury, and thus there is plenty of experience in the group.
Returning for the first time since last year's World Cup is veteran Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho. After being dubbed by the local media as the villain of the quarterfinal defeat against Belgium, Fernandinho initially decided that his international days were done. He no longer wanted to put his family through the emotional strain. Tite has worked hard to coax him back, wanting his presence both on the field and in the dressing room. His recall means there is no space for Fabinho of Liverpool.
There is more experience at right-back. After missing Russia 2018 through injury, Dani Alves is back for what surely will be his last international tournament. He is also seen as a key dressing room voice, and an important influence on Neymar. His inclusion also highlights the thinking of Tite since their World Cup elimination, when Belgium took advantage of defensive deficiencies. The full-backs are now not expected to function as auxiliary wingers, flying up the flanks. Instead, the full-backs will be expected to construct from deep. And so there is no space for Real Madrid's attack-minded left-back Marcelo.
One of Tite's old favourites, midfielder Renato Augusto misses out, as does West Ham's Felipe Anderson, who was called up in March. But the longest list of absences is comprised of wingers: Vinicius Jr, Lucas Moura, Douglas Costa and Willian have all been left out, a testimony to the extraordinary strength in depth that Brazil enjoy in these positions.
Centre-forward remains an enigma. Since the World Cup, Roberto Firmino has been first choice. But so far Tite has struggled to knit the Liverpool forward's undoubted virtues into the team. The time on the training field in preparation for the Copa would have been vital, but Liverpool's presence in the Champions League final on June 1 will delay his arrival. This could mean that Gabriel Jesus can reclaim the position. It could also be good news for Richarlison. It could even mean that Tite will experiment with David Neres, who had such an impressive season with Ajax.
Some of the pieces, then, will have to fit together under the scorching spotlight of the competition. Five years on from the 7-1 collapse against Germany, it will be fascinating to see how Brazil cope with the burdens and expectations of playing in front of their own public.