Football Clouds hang over Neymar as Copa America looms in Brazil

Under a wave of suspicion and criticism, Neymar will start his Copa America preparations today [Macau time].

The 27-year-old striker arrived at Brazil’s training ground outside Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, but today will mark his first day of full training with the national team.

The clouds hovering over the Brazilian are many, and the main one is medical.

Once again, Neymar is recovering from a fifth metatarsal injury in his right foot, the same injury that slowed his runs and dribbles at last year’s World Cup. After 70 days off, the Brazilian returned to training at the beginning of April but only played four matches for Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazil fitness coach Fabio Mahseredjian said Neymar should be fully recovered after a pair of friendlies against Qatar and Honduras in early June.

“He will be in better shape than in the 2018 World Cup,” the fitness coach said.

The Copa America starts on June 14 with host Brazil facing Bolivia in the opening match at Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo. Venezuela and Peru are also in the same group.

Brazil’s coaching staff was also optimistic about Neymar’s recovery for the World Cup in Russia, but the striker instead made news for his splashy dives rather than his once frequent dashing performances.

Neymar is also heading into the Copa America, a tournament Brazil hasn’t won since 2007, with a disciplinary problem.

Besides being been banned for three matches in France after an altercation with a fan following the French Cup final, Neymar also publicly criticized some of his teammates — a move that Brazil coach Tite doesn’t like.

In response, Neymar has been replaced as captain by veteran defender Dani Alves. The Brazilian soccer confederation said Tite made the decision on Saturday after a one-on-one conversation with Neymar.

Cafu, a former Brazil captain who led the team to the World Cup title in 2002, said Neymar was not showing enough respect for the armband.

“Being captain is a big responsibility,” Cafu said. “It is more than being the team’s star.”

Adoration at home has also suffered because of political reasons.

Neymar recently showed support for far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has made a series of racist, misogynistic and anti-gay statements.

Weeks later, as Neymar prepared for his return after the injury, Brazilian media reported his father had met Bolsonaro and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes to discuss the player’s tax problems.

The Copa America will mark Neymar’s fourth tournament played at home. He won the 2013 Confederations Cup and the gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but his team was eliminated in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup. Neymar was injured and didn’t play in the 7-1 loss to Germans. Mauricio Savarese, AP

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