AP NEWS

Brazil and Argentina struggling ahead of Copa America

March 27, 2019
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Argentina's Lionel Messi runs with the ball during an international friendly soccer match between Argentina and Venezuela at Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Friday, March 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

MADRID (AP) — The Copa America is less than three months away and both Brazil and Argentina have shown they are far from their best.

Brazil is having trouble defending and transitioning from the back to the attack. Argentina, meanwhile, is struggling with a drop in individual skill on the ball — even with the return of Lionel Messi.

The South American championship starts on June 14 and runs through July 7 in five cities around Brazil.

The Brazilian national team was held to a 1-1 draw by Panama on Saturday, and then unconvincingly beat the Czech Republic 3-1 in Prague on Tuesday. Both matches were played without Neymar, who has a foot injury.

Brazil coach Tite, so beloved before the World Cup in Russia, is now facing condemnation from an army of detractors.

“I respect (the criticism), and I say that without any hypocrisy,” Tite said. “I am in the public eye and I need to know how to absorb this.”

The two friendlies, both played in Europe, showed a weakness in Brazil’s defensive setup, but there were also some highlights up front.

David Neres, an Ajax striker who played in the place of injured Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior, excelled in Brazil’s victory against the Czechs despite only playing for only 33 minutes.

Also, AC Milan forward Lucas Paqueta scored against Panama while Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus scored two goals in Prague — two more than he managed at last year’s World Cup.

Brazil’s final squad for the Copa America will be announced on May 17.

The pressure is also on Argentina, which hasn’t won the continental tournament in 26 years and lost to Chile in the last two finals.

Messi’s return to the national team for the first time since Argentina lost to eventual champion France in the last 16 at the World Cup was far from glorious. The Argentines lost to Venezuela 3-1 in Madrid on Friday. They followed that with a late goal in a 1-0 win over Morocco in Tangiers — without Messi on the field.

Messi never explained why he took a break following the World Cup, but the team he rejoined last week under coach Lionel Scaloni is changing day by day.

Since taking over late last year, with a contract that runs through the Copa America, Scaloni has already tried eight different goalkeepers.

“I think we arrive well to Copa America,” Scaloni said, drawing some amazed looks from the assembled media. “As I said in the draw, we will fight a war with everyone.”

Besides having Messi in the attack, though, the rest of the team that will play in Brazil remains a mystery.

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Rey reported from Buenos Aires.