Brazil head coach Tite lauded Neymar after the superstar inspired the Copa America champions to a 3-0 win against Venezuela in Sunday's curtain-raiser.

Neymar scored and was involved in the two other goals as Brazil kicked off their title defence in victorious fashion behind closed doors in Brasilia.

Marquinhos opened the scoring following Neymar's corner in the 23rd minute before the latter converted a penalty after the hour mark.

It was Neymar's 67th international goal – just 10 shy of Pele's all-time record. Since making his Brazil debut in August 2010, the Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 48 more goals than any of his Selecao team-mates.

Neymar then provided the cross for substitute Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa to complete the scoring in the final minute of regulation as Tite refused to make comparisons with Brazil greats Ronaldo and Romario.

"When Neymar is well physically and well in his head, good things happen," Tite told reporters after the 29-year-old created seven chances against Venezuela – the most by any Brazil player in the Copa America since his international bow.

"When you have a player with the technical quality that he has, you gain in assist ability, with the left foot or with the right foot, and he becomes an unpredictable player.

"When you stop him in a more advanced position on the field of play it is better for him, because the opponents are afraid of making him an infraction in a dangerous place on the field, so we structure the team so that he receives fewer balls, but to do it in a more efficient way for the creation of the game.

"It would be an injustice to compare players from different eras, because the players of my generation were extraordinary, Neymar is also extraordinary, and a while ago Ronaldo and Romario were also extraordinary.

"There are different stages and moments, so you have to be very careful not to compare them."

Before Brazil's Copa America opener against Venezuela, there was a moment of silence to recognise the victims of the pandemic and those leading the fight against COVID-19.

It was a poignant scene. Somehow, it was made more powerful by the fact it was staged in front of thousands of empty seats at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, the fans kept away from matches at a tournament held in part as a distraction from the global health crisis.

Yet the Selecao's simple victory, secured through goals by Marquinhos, Neymar and Gabriel Barbosa, only compounded the uncomfortable feeling that, perhaps, this tournament shouldn't be taking place at all.

CONMEBOL's decision to remove the event from co-hosts Colombia and Argentina over concerns around civil unrest and coronavirus cases, and relocate it to a country struggling with both, was questionable to say the least. The Brazil squad certainly thought so, reluctantly taking part only after making it clear they were deeply unhappy with South American football's governing body. Head coach Tite decried it as a "politicised" decision.

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, protests erupted across the country against the handling of the pandemic by president Jair Bolsonaro, who has been criticised for playing down the severity of a virus that has killed more than 460,000 of his citizens. Then, just when Brazil had agreed to play, Sunday's opponents were struck by a surge of positive test results, wrecking their preparations for a match where few gave them a chance anyway.

So it was that the Brazil and Venezuela players stood arm in arm in the centre circle on Sunday, in silent tribute before those empty red seats, faceless reminders of the awful toll COVID-19 has taken. It felt like this was why these teams had gathered here, that the football match to follow was an afterthought.

There were still things to admire about the subsequent 90 minutes. A depleted Venezuela performed admirably to keep Brazil at arm's length for 23 minutes and rode their luck when Richarlison's touch let him down and Gabriel Jesus steered a header wide. It took a set-piece for Tite's mean to break through, Marquinhos bundling the ball in from Neymar's delivery.

Joel Graterol in the Vinotinto goal had kept the scoreline down but was beaten again just past the hour mark, Neymar side-stepping and stuttering his way to the penalty spot before slotting home international goal number 67 after a foul on Danilo. Brazil's number 10 would have had two more sublime solo goals had his shooting been a little more accurate; instead, he put a pinpoint cross into Gabriel's chest for 3-0 after another drive into the box.

The players celebrated their goals with gusto but, after the full-time whistle echoed around the arena, there were few cheers or beaming smiles. This was job done, formalities over, onto the next one. They retreated back down the tunnel. The eerie silence lingered.

Neymar was on target as Brazil opened their Copa America defence with a 3-0 win over Venezuela at Estadio Nacional on Sunday. 

Hosting the tournament after it had been moved from Colombia and Argentina amid political unrest in the former and a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the latter, Brazil were never troubled by a Venezuela side that had reported 12 positive coronavirus tests amongst their ranks earlier this week. 

Marquinhos got them on their way midway through the first half with his third international goal before Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar doubled their advantage from the penalty spot in the 64th minute.

Brazil – who finished with 18 shots to Venezuela's three – added a third late on when substitute Gabriel Barbosa turned home a Neymar cross from close range.

Brazil started on the front foot and twice went close early on, Joel Graterol keeping out Richarlison and Eder Militao heading wide from a teasing Renan Lodi cross.

They were rewarded for their bright start in the 23rd minute when Marquinhos flicked home from close range after Neymar's corner had fallen kindly to him. 

Richarlison saw an effort ruled out for offside soon after, while Neymar dragged wide from a promising position as Brazil failed to extend their advantage before the interval.

Neymar was unable to steer home a Gabriel Jesus cross at the start of the second period, but he stroked home from the spot shortly after the hour mark after Danilo had been clipped in the area by Yohan Cumana. 

Late on Neymar turned provider for Brazil’s third in the 89th minute, rounding Graterol and crossing for Barbosa to chest home from almost on the line. 

What does it mean? Familiar home comforts for Tite's men

Brazil will face significantly tougher tests than the one posed by a depleted Venezuela side, but Tite will be pleased to see his side get off the mark with the minimum of fuss. 

The Selecao have now gone 21 Copa America games without losing when the tournament takes place on home soil (W13 D8), while they have lifted the title on the previous five occasions they have hosted the tournament. Their rivals have been warned. 

Neymar sparkles for Brazil

The PSG forward was at his talismanic best, taking five shots and making a game-high seven key passes. He also competed in a whopping 17 duels – the most of any player on the pitch – and drew the most fouls (four) of any player.

Jesus struggles to make an impact

Jesus had just a solitary shot and failed to play a single key pass to a team-mate in what was an underwhelming display. Roberto Firmino might just fancy his chances of replacing him for Brazil's next game after this showing from the Manchester City man. 

What's next?

Both sides are in action again on Thursday, with Brazil facing Peru in Rio de Janeiro and Venezuela taking on Colombia in Goiania.

Kylian Mbappe was left disappointed by Olivier Giroud's comments over a perceived lack of service, though he insists the situation between the pair will not overshadow France's bid for glory at Euro 2020.

The reigning world champions kick off their campaign in the delayed tournament on Tuesday, as they take on Group F rivals Germany at the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Les Bleus recorded successive 3-0 wins in warm-up fixtures against Wales and Bulgaria, Giroud scoring twice against the latter after coming on as a substitute.

However, the Chelsea striker – who now has 46 international goals, just five behind Thierry Henry in the country's all-time scoring list – said in a post-match press conference that he did not feel team-mates had looked for him enough when in possession.

His remarks were perceived to be aimed at Mbappe - the pair completed just one pass between each other during their time together on the pitch – and the 22-year-old had the opportunity to respond on Sunday, having been denied the opportunity to speak to the media earlier in the week.

"We talked about it, we discussed it, it made people talk, everyone knows what happened. I was a little affected, but we are not going to make a big deal out of it," Mbappe said.

"The team remains the most important thing, such situations are not going to disrupt our preparation. We are focused on the same objective."

Asked again about the relationship between the pair, the Paris Saint-Germain forward made clear he was not happy with Giroud airing his feelings to the media, rather than in the changing room after the friendly fixture.

"What he said didn't bother me more than that, I'm a striker and I've had this feeling 365 times in a game," Mbappe continued.

"I congratulated him in the locker room, he didn't say anything to me and then I heard from the press. He didn't say anything bad. It's more the fact of him talking publicly, I would have preferred him to come and be more open in the locker room.

"But that's not a problem, these are small things. The team does not need us to get in the way."

He added: "The most important thing is to talk about it, to straighten things out and put it all after the group.

"I repeat, the most important thing is the group and this European Championship. This micro-episode disturbed the fact that we are focused on one thing and one thing only, it is the Euros and this first match against Germany."

Mbappe made clear that while he may not pass the ball as often to Giroud during games as, for example, France team-mate Karim Benzema or PSG colleague Neymar, that is due to situational factors, rather than any personal preference.

"Neymar touches the ball 150 times per game. Benzema touches it 80. Olivier touches it a lot less given his profile. If you compare the number of passes I make to Benzema or Neymar compared to Giroud, of course it is fewer to Olivier," he said.

"But that doesn't mean that I don't look for him. It's just that his profile is different. Benzema comes 40 metres from the goal to get touches, Giroud prefers to stay up front and be present in the box.

"You imply that I do not want to pass to Giroud. I say that these players have different profiles."

As Brazil eye back-to-back Copa America trophies, Mineiro has been to the summit before.

Mineiro was part of the Selecao side that won the 2007 Copa America, defeating Argentina 3-0 to retain their CONMEBOL crown.

Brazil – led by Dunga – were far from favourites 14 years ago in Venezuela, where Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano were among the absentees.

But a team featuring Robinho, Julio Baptista and Dani Alves upstaged great rivals Argentina, who were boasting Lionel Messi, Javier Zanetti, Carlos Tevez, Juan Roman Riquelme, Juan Sebastian Veron and Javier Mascherano in Maracaibo.

"On that occasion we basically went to the competition with our reserve team," Mineiro – who started every match and went on to earn a move to Hertha Berlin following the Copa America success, before joining Chelsea – told Stats Perform. "As several of the main players could not take part in that edition of the tournament.

"At the beginning, people did not expect much from us, the media was in doubt about our potential. But we managed to grow as a team little by little and we showed our potential. The biggest challenge came in the final match. And we won the Copa America and brought another trophy to Brazil."

"We are a country of over 200 million inhabitants. And it is a big responsibility to wear the yellow shirt," said 24-time international Mineiro. "The pressure is very big. However, it is also an honour, a privilege and a dream come true for every youngster, for every professional player to be able to wear that shirt and represent the country.

"We knew it. We were aware of our limitations. We knew it would be a tough Copa America for us. But we were totally focused and united and that was crucial for us. As I said, we went step by step gaining confidence. We got stronger and found ourselves in the final and managed to win it. For every professional footballer it is an honour to wear Selecao's shirt. Regardless of the pressure you must deal with."

The pressure is on Tite's Brazil to keep their hands on the Copa America trophy this year, as they prepare to open the showpiece South American tournament against Venezuela on Sunday.

Brazil have won five of the last nine editions of the Copa America, including the most recent one in 2019, while the Selecao have a favourable record against seven of the nine other teams at this year's event.

Pressure is nothing new in a country, where football transcends everything else. It is a way of life. It is a special kind of pressure in a country of 200million people, when every boy grows up wanting to play for the Selecao.

Amid the huge weight of expectations, Mineiro said: "Brazil is a country where emotions normally speak higher than reasoning. It is a fact. The here and now normally defines your status, how good you are. In Brazil there is not much patience to wait for a job to be developed. This is the Brazilian style, it is cultural to want immediate results.

"As we are considered...well, at least this is my impression where I go, we are considered one of the best - if not the best - football country in the world. But we must change that mentality and learn to work in different scenarios. With or without pressure. When we wear the Selecao shirt, every fan and the media expect us to win the game and play beautiful football and reach great results."

Brazil will also face Peru – a rematch of the 2019 decider, Colombia and Ecuador in Group B of this year's Copa America.

"Whenever you go onto the pitch, no matter if that is for the national team or for your club, you always think of winning the game," the 45-year-old continued. "But the pressure is obviously higher at Selecao. And when you represent your country, the desire is always to fight and do a great job.

"But it is hard as the opponents are always motivated to get a positive result against Brazil. It has been like that for a long time. Brazil have difficulties to beat some sides, perhaps because of their big motivation when they face Brazil. Anyway, every player will always try to represent the Selecao in the best possible way."

All eyes will be on superstar Neymar, who is carrying the hopes of a football-mad nation.

Neymar has scored 66 goals for Brazil, second only to Pele (77). Since his Brazil debut in August 2010, the Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 47 more goals than any team-mate (Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, 18).

In 2020-21, Neymar completed 5.6 dribbles per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 – the best mark of any player in Europe's top-five leagues to play at least 1000 minutes. Since joining PSG in 2017, he ranks third in France's top flight for goals (56) and fourth for assists (31), despite ranking 177th for appearances (70).

For all of Neymar's brilliance, Mineiro believes Brazil must learn not rely on the former Barcelona superstar.

"Neymar is a great player. His quality and potential are undeniable. On several occasions Brazil depend on his performance to show great football. In my opinion, Brazil should have a plan B just in case Neymar is absent for some reason," added Mineiro.

"Brazil must learn to play as a team and make the most of the individual quality of every player. That way we would become a stronger, more competitive side. Then we would surprise other teams who will be prepared to cancel our main players."

Neymar and Everton's Richarlison have formed an impressive relationship in attack for Brazil, though Mineiro has his collective concerns for the South American powerhouse.

"I have been following Richarlison. He is an excellent player with a big potential," said Mineiro. "He is growing and is an important player for Selecao. There is something I am a bit worried about Selecao. We have good players but they do not play together frequently or have enough time to train together as the European national teams do.

"Germany, for instance, a team that I am able to follow closely, they do have more chances to be together either training or playing matches. More than Brazil. They know each other well and have more opportunities to be together either in their clubs or in competitions. That is an advantage for the European national teams. Therefore, as many training sessions or games we can have with our good players can only be good for Selecao."

Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America have the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Following club seasons either laden with trophies or padded with statistical achievements – or, in some cases, a bit of both – a few elite-level performances could make the difference in the race to win France Football's famous award.

Stats Perform has chosen a shortlist of 14 players who could make themselves Ballon d'Or favourites should they sparkle over the next month...

 

Karim Benzema

Remarkably, Karim Benzema failed to win a trophy with Real Madrid despite registering 30 goals and nine assists in 46 games in all competitions.

That form did bring his international exile to an end, though, and if he keeps it up for France over the coming month, a Ballon d'Or challenge is not out of the question.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

Had Pep Guardiola's men finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy, the Ballon d'Or might be De Bruyne's already. Leading Belgium to Euros glory would probably do the job.

Ruben Dias

The other prime candidate for City's player of the season, Ruben Dias was a colossal performer at the heart of their defence after joining from Benfica, winning the Premier League's Player of the Season award.

Defenders' difficulties winning big individual prizes are well documented, and the last to lift the Ballon d'Or – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – did so after leading Italy to the World Cup.

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was heartbroken to lose the Europa League final on penalties as his wait for a trophy with Manchester United goes on.

However, a combined 46 direct goal involvements – the most of any Premier League player – means individual glory could be on the cards should Fernandes and Portugal shine.

Phil Foden

The PFA Young Player of the Year winner, Phil Foden blossomed in 2020-21 from prodigious talent to integral player for both City and England.

His Ballon d'Or chances are probably slimmer than those of a couple of his City team-mates, but long-awaited success for the Three Lions could put him right in the mix.

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, Kane is England's undisputed star going into Euro 2020 and has every chance of topping the scoring charts again.

N'Golo Kante

Arguably the popular choice for the award, N'Golo Kante won the Champions League with Chelsea after being named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final and the final against City.

France are most observers' favourites to win the Euros and, if they do, Kante will surely be facing short odds to win the ultimate individual trophy – even if it's one in which he has little interest.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Winning the Euros with Poland might be a stretch, but finishing as top goalscorer is certainly achievable.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

With eight goals in his past nine games for Belgium, the 28-year-old could well be the man to fire Roberto Martinez's side to glory, which would make him very hard to overlook.

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day. The Euros could be his ticket to glory in 2021.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it does put him right in the mix. If he can finally win the Copa America with Argentina, Ballon d'Or number seven may well follow.

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he has only an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

He typically produces in a Brazil shirt, though, and winning the Copa America would propel him right back into the mix for the individual prize he supposedly craves above all others.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

Ronaldo won his fourth of five Ballons d'Or after Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016, and there's little doubt he would be vying for a sixth if they defend that trophy.

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

Should Uruguay upset the odds at the Copa America, you can bet Suarez will be in the running for the Ballon d'Or. Quite what Barca fans would make of that is hard to say.

Brazil's squad said they are "against" the Copa America but will not boycott the upcoming South American showpiece.

The Copa America is scheduled to get underway on Sunday, but the tournament has been overshadowed by controversy and uncertainty after CONMEBOL relocated the event to Brazil.

Postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Copa America had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina, though both countries were removed as co-hosts following respective political and COVID-19 issues.

Brazil was awarded hosting rights, despite being one of the country's worst hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Selecao captain Casemiro suggested the entire team were against hosting the Copa America on home soil, with head coach Tite promising more would be revealed following Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

After Neymar and Lucas Paqueta preserved Brazil's perfect qualifying record with a 2-0 win away from home, the squad stated their intentions in a statement via social media while criticising CONMEBOL.

"For different reasons, be they humanitarian or professional, we are not satisfied with the way the Copa America has been handled by CONMEBOL," the players said.

"All the recent facts lead us to believe in an inadequate process in realising [the tournament]."

Defending champions Brazil are scheduled to open the Copa America against Venezuela in Brasilia on Sunday.

Tite's Brazil are in Group B for the Copa America, alongside Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.

"We are workers, professional footballers. We have a mission to take with the historic green and yellow shirt that won the World Cup five times," the statement continued.

"We are against the organisation of the Copa America but we will never say no to playing for Brazil."

Amid the uncertainty, the future of Tite has also been called into question due to the stance of the squad.

But Tite told reporters post-match: "I am not a hypocrite. I am not aloof and I know what is happening. But I know what the priority is. The priority is my work and the dignity of my work."

Tite was reluctant to discuss the stance of his players regarding the Copa America following his historic outing against Paraguay.

Brazil boss tite has never lost in World Cup qualifying (W16 D2) – the longest unbeaten sequence for a coach of any national team in CONMEBOL history after the Selecao won in Paraguay for the first time since 1985.

Brazil made it six wins from six games in World Cup qualifying after Neymar's goal and Lucas Paqueta's late strike secured a 2-0 win over Paraguay.

Neymar broke the deadlock in the fourth minute before substitute Paqueta completed the scoring in the third minute of stoppage time as Brazil preserved their 100 per cent record in CONMEBOL qualifying on Tuesday.

A 67th international goal for Neymar – only 10 adrift of all-time record holder Pele – helped send Brazil six points clear of rivals Argentina atop the standings on the road to Qatar 2022.

Brazil entered the contest away to Paraguay amid continued uncertainty over the scheduled Copa America and their participation, with the Selecao squad united in their opposition of hosting the showpiece tournament on home soil.

On the field, Tite's Brazil impressed and quickly stamped their authority on the match thanks to star Neymar in Asuncion.

Neymar put Brazil ahead with a simple side-footed finish in the fourth minute after Richarlison scuppered his attempt to volley Gabriel Jesus' cross.

It was a good omen for Brazil, with the Copa America champions winning all eight of their previous games in which the Paris Saint-Germain forward had scored in World Cup qualifiers.

A ferocious long-range strike from Paraguay defender Omar Alderete almost restored parity four minutes later but Brazil goalkeeper Ederson was forced into a stunning save.

Richarlison, who almost added a second goal in the 12th minute, put the ball in the back of the net with a brilliant half-volley in the second minute of stoppage time but it was ruled out for offside.

The tempo dropped in the second half however Marquinhos went close to doubling Brazil's lead, with his header sailing just wide of the post in the 55th minute.

Richarlison was in the thick of the action with 20 minutes remaining following a dazzling run into the box however he was thwarted by Paraguay, but Paqueta struck in the 93rd minute to make sure of the points.

 

What does it mean? All eyes on Copa America

After extending their winning streak to seven matches, attention will now shift to the scheduled Copa America. It remains to be seen whether Tite's men will take part, with the event set to start on Sunday.

Clean sheet specialists

Amid their winning run, Brazil – who have not lost since their 1-0 friendly defeat to Argentina in 2019 – have only conceded two goals, keeping six clean sheets in the process.

Winless Paraguay

While Paraguay only lost by one goal, they never really troubled Brazil. Eduardo Berizzo's men have now gone four matches without a win, claiming just one victory from their six qualifiers to date.

What's next?

Brazil are scheduled to face Venezuela in the Copa America curtain-raiser on Sunday, while Paraguay are due to meet Bolivia on Monday.

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said "all the great players want to come to PSG" as he discussed the future of Barcelona captain Lionel Messi.

Messi is set to become a free agent, with his existing Barca deal officially expiring on June 30 amid links to Ligue 1 giants PSG and Premier League champions Manchester City.

Barca remain confident Messi will renew at Camp Nou – president Joan Laporta repeatedly insisting the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner wants to prolong his stay.

Al-Khelaifi was asked about Messi and PSG's reported pursuit of the 33-year-old superstar.

"What I can say is that all the great players want to come to PSG," Al-Khelaifi told L'Equipe.

"It isn't possible to sign them all, because we already have great footballers in our squad. Having said that, Messi is Messi, a fantastic player.

"I have told [Barcelona president Joan] Laporta that [Lionel Messi's] contract is coming to an end and every club has the right to negotiate with him and can sign him for the next season."

Al-Khelaifi also hit out at Barca for their attempts to re-sign Neymar from PSG.

Neymar was continually linked with a return to Barca following his world-record exit in 2017 before extending his PSG contract until 2025 in May.

"Barcelona tried very hard to sign Neymar," Al-Khelaifi said. "Obviously, we rejected their advances.

"I think they club [Barcelona] have some financial problems, but that isn't our business. Barcelona have always loved Neymar, and that isn't a secret.

"Neymar didn't want to go there, even though he wasn't completely adapted to PSG or Paris. But if you call him now, he will tell you he is happy at PSG."

Brazil preserved their perfect record in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying after Richarlison and Neymar's second-half strikes broke Ecuador's stubborn resistance in a 2-0 victory.

Richarlison and Neymar combined for the decisive 65th-minute goal as Brazil made it five wins from five matches on the road to Qatar 2022 in Porto Alegre on Friday.

With all eyes on the upcoming Copa America, due to start in Brazil on June 13 amid reports some of the Selecao players do not want to compete, Richarlison broke the deadlock with a powerful strike behind closed doors.

Neymar sealed the win with a re-taken penalty in the 94th minute to send Tite's men four points clear atop the qualifying standings.

It was a clash between the two top-scoring teams in World Cup qualifying, Ecuador having scored 13 goals through four rounds, while Brazil had found the back of the net on 12 occasions.

But chances were few and far between, especially in the first half, with Ecuador looking comfortable away from home amid Brazil's subdued play.

Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa – who had forced goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez into a routine save earlier in the half – did put the ball in the back of the net for Brazil three minutes before half-time but it was ruled out for offside.

While Brazil – playing for the first time since November's 2-0 win in Uruguay – were largely toothless in the opening 45 minutes, they did not face a shot on target for the third occasion in their five qualifying games.

Neymar, the subject of a scary incident prior to kick-off as two overexcited fans charged at the Paris Saint-Germain star and attempted to steal his shoes, continued to be in the thick of the action with a couple of strikes.

He was the architect for the opening goal just past the hour mark, playing in Richarlison, whose shot proved too hot to handle for Dominguez at the front post.

That goal brought Brazil to life as Gabigol had two good chances to double the lead for the Selecao.

With 18 minutes remaining, Gabigol got on the end of Gabriel Jesus' reverse pass but Dominguez was quick off his line to thwart the Flamengo star.

Gabigol was unable to divert his header on target three minutes later after Richarlison did superbly well to keep the ball in play.

Brazil were awarded a penalty following a VAR review at the death and while Neymar's initial penalty was saved by Dominguez in the first minute of stoppage time, an encroachment spared the star's blushes as he made no mistake a second time around.

Sergio Aguero signed on the dotted line at Barcelona but refused to discuss the possibility of Pep Guardiola following him from Manchester City to Camp Nou.

Barcelona are in a state of upheaval amid doubts over Ronald Koeman's future, with club president Joan Laporta describing the Dutchman as "a coach that we did not ask for" on Monday.

Laporta has not excluded the possibility of Koeman staying in charge for the second year of his contract, but it appears the club are also looking at alternative options to come in and take charge.

Aguero is also thought of as a potential upgrade on the talent Barcelona have as striking options, besides Lionel Messi, having become Manchester City's record goalscorer during a highly successful decade in England.

The new recruit also said he thought Messi would be staying at Barcelona, continuing their partnership from the Argentina national team.

However, asked about the possibility of Barcelona re-hiring Guardiola, who coached the Blaugrana from 2008 to 2012, Aguero stayed well clear.

He said: "I don't have the right to talk about that. He has a contract with City and I'm not the one who has to talk about the coach."

The 'one' would be Laporta, the president who was elected in March. His predecessor, Josep Maria Bartomeu, appointed Koeman.

Asked about the latest situation with Koeman, during what was Aguero's presentation news conference, Laporta said: "I already said that we have started a period of reflection, for the reasons I said.

"As he was a coach that we did not ask for, we needed that period. There are contacts, I have already said that he is a coach with a current contract and our will is to respect it as long as this period of reflection occurs."

Koeman almost led Barcelona to a domestic double in 2020-21, but a dip in league form over the closing weeks of the season meant their charge since the turn of the year was only good enough for third place in LaLiga. They won the Copa del Rey, but that may not be enough to save him.

Laporta was also questioned about whether Aguero had been brought in to please captain Messi, who has yet to sign a new contract with his current deal to expire at the end of June.

The president replied, according to Mundo Deportivo: "The signing of Aguero is because he is a desired player and an exceptional player. It is the first of a series of signings that you will get to know. Naturally, we want Messi to continue."

The news conference was perhaps a sign of what Aguero can expect at Barcelona, at least in the short term. Messi signing a new deal would bring a sense of calm to proceedings, as would clarity on the coaching situation.

Aguero is looking forward to playing with his compatriot on a week-by-week basis.

He said the prime motivation to join his new club was: "To be at Barca, where the best player in the world is.

"If he [Messi] continues here, which I think he will, we will try to do our best, as we have always done, in the national team."

Laporta could announce a new signing every day of this week – and he might yet, with Eric Garcia, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum heavily linked – but the coaching situation also needs to be a priority.

Aguero steered away from recommending Guardiola's appointment, but spoke of his admiration for the City coach.

"We all know that Pep, since he arrived at City, has proposed a different football," Aguero said. "He proposes to keep the ball all the time and to keep that is important. It made me and the whole team better."

Injuries and a COVID-19 absence caused Aguero to miss chunks of the 2020-21 season, but he came through a medical on Monday and said his left knee, which was operated on last June, was "perfectly fine".

Messi has benefited from some outstanding forwards lining up alongside him during his Barcelona career, notably David Villa, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Barcelona averaged 2.7 goals per game when Villa and Messi played together, and it was the same when Neymar played with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, dipping to 2.6 when Messi and Suarez featured in the same side.

There are overlaps to bear in mind when looking at those figures, but not in the case of Villa who left Barca in July 2013, with Neymar arriving effectively as his replacement. Suarez then came in a year later from Liverpool.

Neymar departed for Paris Saint-Germain in August 2017, while Suarez was sold to Atletico Madrid last year.

Barcelona's win percentage stood at 74.1 per cent when Neymar and Messi played in the same team, 73.6 per cent with Villa and 73.2 per cent with Suarez.

Yet Barca's points per game were curiously slightly lower at 2.3 when Messi played with Neymar compared to when Suarez and Villa were in the team alongside the little maestro (2.4).

It was a sign of the times that Barcelona, led by Guardiola for two of Villa's three seasons, averaged 71.8 per cent possession while the Spain striker was at Camp Nou. When Messi and Neymar played together that figure was 67.2 per cent and when Messi and Suarez teamed up it was 65.3 per cent.

Messi, Suarez and Neymar frequently played in the same side, forming the feared 'MSN' forward line.

Lyon sporting director Juninho slammed departing Barcelona-linked star Memphis Depay for wanting the Ligue 1 side to revolve around him like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Depay will leave Lyon on a free transfer this off-season and LaLiga giants Barca – led by former Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman – have been tipped to sign the Dutch forward.

The 27-year-old Depay, who arrived from Manchester United in 2017, was involved in 32 goals in Ligue 1 this season (20 goals and 12 assists) – equalling his best tally in a single campaign with the French side (19 goals and 13 assists in 2017-18).

Only Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe scored more Ligue 1 goals (27) than Depay in 2020-21, but Juninho had strong words for the outgoing Lyon captain.

"Memphis Depay just wanted a team for himself," Juninho told OLTV. "It's not a criticism, I had a good relationship with him.

"But on the other hand, the whole team had to revolve around him and that is very hard. Everyone should feel like they're working the same.

"There are only four players in the world where you have to do everything for them: Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Mbappe. If you have one of them, then the team can revolve around them.

"Sorry, I think that Depay is strong, but he's not at their level. And I think that he has to work harder without the ball."

Juninho also responded to departing head coach Rudi Garcia's stunning criticism.

In an interview with L'Equipe, Garcia said: "I was badly welcomed by certain people but I thought that after the cups and being top of the table at the half-way point, things would change.

"There are some fiery minorities but in the city the messages I received were truly nice. I also have the satisfaction of having the second team in France in terms of most playing time for young players. That was one of the objectives, to give chances to and favour those who have a market value but also to play the Brazilian recruits and after a while, there is the squaring of the circle…

"…he [Gerard Houllier, who died in December] was critical in the balance of the club. He knew how to grease up the wheels. It was he who could explain the role of Sporting Director to Juninho who lacked the experience. It is essential in a club that all the people are behind each other as we saw in Lille. Here there was too much dissonance in my relationship with Juni.

"Things went well initially. Things started to go wrong without me noticing. After two or three victories in November, the sporting director no longer came to congratulate me. I found that when the Brazilian recruits weren't playing, he wasn't happy. He would have preferred to win with his players.

"He invests himself a lot, and that is a quality, but I certainly think that he must have promised them that they would start. We spoke about it, he told me that if it had to be done again, he would not push on these things. But it slowed down the emergence of certain young players like [Maxence] Caqueret in particular. Juni's opinion was that Jean Lucas was better. The problem must have come from there initially. And things quickly deteriorated."

In reply as Lyon try to replace Garcia, Juninho said: "I was surprised. I knew he was going to do something like this because that's his character. He chose an experienced journalist and the statement looks like it was prepared a long time ago. It's a long interview, but I don't feel like I'm being betrayed. We are betrayed by friends, and we worked together as professionals.

"One of the problems I had with Rudi was the different ways he treated players in the locker room. He was strong with the weak, and weak with the strong. It was creating problems in the locker room and the players came to see me. Rudi Garcia wanted to loan out Jean Lucas because he didn't play him, we didn't necessarily agree on that. He was complaining that he wasn't progressing tactically, and I thought maybe it was his fault. He took some things personally but the player had nothing to do with it. Eventually he was loaned out, maybe I insisted too much but I have the right to ask questions.

"I think he has a lack of self-confidence. It also bothered him, my way of behaving with the players and the rest of the staff. During the transfer window, it's true I didn't let him choose the players. But that's my role, I made my choices. [Lucas] Paqueta, for example, I made the effort to bring him in. He wasn't necessarily used to this; he likes to impose his choices and that is understandable. But I have defended Rudi on several occasions, it was not necessarily easy but he was doing a good job."

Ligue 1 champions Lille had just two players named in the competition's Team of the Season, with runners-up Paris Saint-Germain represented by five.

It was an incredible season for Christophe Galtier's Lille, who had finished fourth in the shortened 2019-20 campaign.

A talented squad full of vibrant, youthful attackers – albeit spearheaded by veteran campaigner Burak Yilmaz – clinched Ligue 1 title number four for the club on Sunday, with their success confirmed when they beat Angers 2-1 on the final day of the season.

PSG finished top in the previous three seasons since Monaco's Kylian Mbappe-inspired win in 2016-17.

Indeed, it is only the second time since 2012-13 that the capital club has not won the title… Not that you would know it when looking at the Team of the Season as announced by the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP) following the conclusion of the season.

The Parisians dominate the XI with five players: Keylor Navas, Marquinhos, Presnel Kimpembe, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

The only two Lille players to be included in the selection were left-back Reinildo Mandava and Benjamin Andre.

Yilmaz in particular will have every right to be disappointed by his exclusion, with the veteran Turkish striker only outscored by Cristiano Ronaldo (29) among players over the age of 35 across Europe's top five leagues.

His penalty on Sunday, which ultimately proved to be the goal that sealed Lille the title, was his 16th in Ligue 1, a haul bettered by only Mbappe, Monaco's Wissam Ben Yedder and Lyon star Memphis Depay.

Yilmaz is performing well in excess of his expected goals (xG) figure of 9.97. A positive differential of 6.03 is the sixth-best in the elite divisions behind Robert Lewandowski, Marcos Llorente, Son Heung-min, Luis Muriel and Lionel Messi.

Similarly, goalkeeper Mike Maignan may feel a slightly hard done by, his 21 clean sheets two better than anyone else across the top five leagues.

Although, using the xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded model, Navas (8.1) is one of the three goalkeepers in Europe's top leagues to have prevented more goals than Maignan (5.8).

Either way, Lille may not even notice the team has been announced as they look set for a long night of celebrations at the end of a momentous campaign.

Paris Saint-Germain ceded the Ligue 1 title despite winning their final match of the season 2-0 at Brest.

Neymar missed a first-half penalty at Stade Francis-Le Ble before a Romain Faivre own goal and Kylian Mbappe's 27th league goal of the season made it a routine win for Mauricio Pochettino's men.

But Lille's 2-1 victory over Angers meant Christophe Galtier's side completed an incredible triumph by a solitary point.

Results elsewhere were kinder to Brest, with Nantes' 2-1 loss to Montpellier sparing them participation in the relegation play-off.

PSG's title hopes took an early blow when Jonathan David gave Lille the lead at Angers and Neymar then spurned a 19th-minute penalty after Faivre's rash foul on Angel Di Maria.

Brest goalkeeper Gautier Larsonneur engaged in some kidology by standing near his right-hand post for the kick and Neymar duly rolled his shot past the other upright.

Di Maria took matters into his own hands before half-time, albeit with a huge slice of fortune, when his right-wing corner deflected off Faivre and looped beyond Larsonneur.

Brest might have gone in level, only for Steve Mounie to power a close-range header over from Brendan Chardonnet's cross.

News of Lille's comfortable position perhaps informed the lack of intensity at the start of the second half, with PSG creating little of note from open play and Di Maria rippled the side-netting with a free-kick.

Mounie erred again when he burst clear of a haphazard visiting backline in the 65th minute, shooting at Keylor Navas' legs.

PSG were indebted to Navas once more soon afterwards, the former Real Madrid man's positioning impeccable when Gaetan Charbonnier met Mounie's knockdown.

Mbappe had existed on the fringes of the contest but was alert to round Larsonneur in the 71st minute and kept his composure to finish after being bundled to the floor by Jean-Kevin Duverne in front of the unguarded net.

Larsonneur denied substitute Mauro Icardi and Mbappe as Brest appeared increasingly forlorn – their fate ultimately saved by others.

Neymar was touched by the sight of Luis Suarez in tears after helping Atletico Madrid clinch the LaLiga title.

Their Barcelona bond remains, even though both have left Camp Nou, where alongside Lionel Messi they formed the famous 'MSN' strike trio.

On Sunday, Neymar was hoping to help Paris Saint-Germain win the Ligue 1 title, as they looked to overhaul leaders Lille on the final day.

But the Brazilian was also caught up in the drama of Saturday's finale to the Spanish LaLiga season, as Atletico pipped Real Madrid to glory.

Suarez, who made a painful exit from Barcelona last September, scored 21 goals in 32 league games as Atletico broke up the familiar Madrid-Barcelona duopoly.

His goals were worth a total of 22 points to Atleti, more than any other player in LaLiga this season.

The 33-year-old let his emotions flow after scoring the decisive goal in the final-day 2-1 win over Real Valladolid, breaking down at full-time while on a video call to his family.

It was that moment that tugged at the heartstrings of Neymar, who alongside a picture of the weeping striker wrote a message on his Instagram story: "Well done @luissuarez. I'm happy for you brother. You deserve it. You're a star."

England international Kieran Trippier revelled in winning the championship in just his second year in LaLiga.

Trippier wrote on Instagram: "CAMPEONESSSS! Wow, what a feeling! To win @laliga with this incredible group of players is a dream come true. Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year. Vamos!!"

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