If Brazil wants to win the 2016 Copa America Centenario this summer, their hopes rest on the shoulders of young star Neymar. Neymar, who carried Brazil to the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup (before the 7-1 humiliation at the hands of the Germans), is the one man show that pieces together Dunga's Brazil squad. It is still unknown if the FC Barcelona star will participate in this year's prestigious tournament.
Having played the last three summers after long European football seasons, FC Barcelona are concerned about the level of fitness and rest that Neymar must maintain. Neymar, CBF, and FC Barcelona have to come to an agreement to see if Neymar will participate in Copa America, the Olympics, or both.
Neymar's Barcelona teammate Messi, who lead Argentina to Olympic glory at the 2008 games in Beijing, has already decided that he will participate in the United States this summer and not at the Olympics in August. While it would seem that Neymar Jr could follow in Messi's footsteps, his situation is much more complicated than Messi's.
Unlike Argentina, Brazil has never won gold in Olympic Men's Soccer. Despite reaching the final of the Olympic Tournament in London four years ago, Mexico surprised the world and snatched the gold medal from Brazil's hands. It finally seems it is the time for Brazil, who are hosting the Olympics for the first time, and Neymar, who is reaching the prime of his career, to win that elusive Gold Medal at home.
While it is not common for stars to sit out their continent's largest tournament, Neymar has even more incentive to play in this year's one-off tournament than last years traditional Copa America.
The tournament organizers have built the hype of the tournament around the superstar players who should participate: Messi, Luis Suarez, Chicharito, and Neymar. If Neymar decided to sit out the tournament, the organizers would have a hard time filling up big NFL stadiums for a Neymar-less Brazil squad against average CONCACAF or CONEMBOL opponents.
The Two-Sided Decision
Barcelona, along with all the other clubs, are obligated by FIFA to release their players for Copa America, which is on the official FIFA calendar, but not for the Olympics.
"We have not even talked with [Barcelona Manager] Luis Enrique," Dunga said at the Copa America Centenario Draw in New York. "Our intention is to talk to the clubs and find the best solution that will not hurt anyone. We have to speak personally to the player and find a good solution for everyone."
Luis Enrique, who in reality is speaking on behalf of the Barça board, said that he is worried about the "excessive demands" Neymar could face from playing in both tournaments. Neymar has played in every summer since 2013, participating in the 2013 Confederations Cup, 2014 World Cup, and the 2015 Copa America.
Luis Enruiqe made it pretty clear which tournament he thinks Neymar should participate in this summer per Universo:
"It’s a special situation for any athlete: the Olympic Games in your [home] country. We will discuss it, because it’s complicated. There are competitions here and that carry weight. Neymar also has the Copa America [Centenario], and we need to observe the physical aspect. We are looking for a lighter load that benefits the player himself."
If Brazil end up having to play without their talisman, things could get difficult for the five time World Cup Champions. While they would probably get out of Group B (Brazil, Ecudaor, Haiti, Peru) comfortably, they could have serious challenges in advancing past the quarterfinals. Incidentally, Brazil lost in the quarterfinals of last year's Copa America in Chile.
Brazil opens up their Copa America Centenario 2016 campaign on June 10th, when they take on Ecuador at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.