As the Copa America group stage continues, the two top sides in Group B lock horns on Thursday as host nation Brazil take on Colombia in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil lead the group having won both of their opening two games, while their opponents sit second after a somewhat underwhelming start to the campaign, including a 2-1 defeat to Peru last time out.
Brazil’s Neymar celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on June 13, 2021
Brazil come into this game having had the perfect start to their defence of the Copa America title, after they lifted the trophy for the ninth time in 2019.
They started the campaign with a 3-0 victory over Venezuela, as centre-back Marquinhos opened the scoring before Neymar doubled their lead on the hour mark and set Gabriel Barbosa up to add a third in the dying minutes.
Copa America 2021 Tite’s men showed no signs of slowing down in their next match either, as they thrashed Peru 4-0 in Rio de Janeiro.
Left-back Alex Sandro put the Selecao ahead in the 12th minute, and they remained one goal up until Neymar added a second after the hour mark, and Everton Ribeiro and Richarlison would go on to net late goals to cap off another strong day at the office.
Having now won their last nine matches in all competitions, Brazil stand as strong favourites to lift the title on home turf, with the tournament moved away from Argentina and Colombia at short notice due to concerns around COVID-19.
They will look to add a third victory in as many matches to all but confirm their finish at the top of the group, giving them a favourable quarter-final draw.
Meanwhile, their opponents will still feel like they have some work to do in the group stage, as they go into their last match.
Colombia’s Edwin Cardona celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on June 13, 2021
Although they do sit second in the group, Colombia have somewhat failed to impress so far at the tournament, accumulating four points from their opening three group matches.
They did begin with a win, though, as Edwin Cardona netted the only goal of the game in a narrow victory over Ecuador in Cuiaba.
Reinaldo Rueda’s men were then held to a disappointing result in a goalless draw with a resilient Venezuela outfit, as their opponents played with a makeshift squad following a coronavirus outbreak within the squad.
Most recently, they suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of a struggling Peru side, who went into the game on the back of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Brazil.
The Tricolor fell behind early as Sergio Pena netted a 17th-minute opener for Peru, and Miguel Borja’s equaliser from the penalty spot was quickly followed by an own goal from centre-back Yerry Mina to restore their opponents’ lead.
Having already played the bottom three sides in the group, Rueda’s men go into a daunting game as they look to finish the group stage on a high and pick up a result to boost their chances of a high finish, with Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador sitting one, two and three points behind respectively, while Peru and Ecuador each have two matches left to play.
Neymar celebrates scoring for Brazil on June 17, 2021
Given their impressive depth and quality, Brazil were able to rotate heavily between the two opening group games, with the likes of Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, Liverpool’s Fabinho and Chelsea’s Thiago Silva all coming into the side for the Peru match.
We could see that rotation continue on Thursday, with Richarlison, Casemiro and Marquinhos all potentially lined up to start.
Meanwhile, talisman Neymar should remain a fixture in the front line, having hit two goals and an assist in the opening two games, making him one of the standout performers across the tournament so far.
Rueda may have to shake up his side for a different reason, after another disappointing performance from Colombia last time out.
Although Miguel Borja did find the net from the penalty spot, he did not look too threatening in open play, with none of the other players in the front line particularly catching eyes either.
That could warrant a return to the side for Atalanta forward Luis Muriel, with the spots of Borja, Duvan Zapata and Edwin Cardona all at risk to some extent.
At the other end of the pitch, Yerry Mina should keep his spot despite an own goal last time out, with the Everton man expected to continue his partnership with Tottenham Hotspur centre-back Davinson Sanchez at the heart of the back four.
Dynamic midfielder Wilmar Barrios has been arguably their best player in the first three games, and he will play a crucial role in front of the defensive line as they take on one of the tournament’s strongest attacks.
Porto duo Mateus Uribe and Luis Diaz will return from suspensions to offer different options for Rueda, and Diaz may be given his first start of the tournament on the left-hand side given their lack of attacking threat so far in the group stage.
Brazil possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Danilo, Militao, Marquinhos, Sandro; Richarlison, Fabinho, Casemiro, Everton; Neymar, Jesus
Colombia possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Medina, Sanchez, Mina, Tesillo; Cuadrado, Barrios, Cuellar, Uribe, Diaz; Muriel
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We say: Brazil 2-0 Colombia
Brazil come into the game with plenty of momentum and confidence, and they should have too much for Colombia on Thursday as they look to all but confirm their first-placed finish in the group.
Having not conceded a goal while scoring seven in their opening two games, the host nation will look to carry on their fine form against a Colombia side who are yet to kick into gear in this tournament.