Committed Brazil a favorite to defend Copa America title

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Brazil's Neymar, right, celebrates with teammate Richarlison after scoring his side's opening goal against Paraguay during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Defensores del Chaco stadium in Asuncion, Paraguay, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

SAO PAULO – Brazil’s international players were reluctant to play in the Copa America on home soil. Now that they’re committed, they're favored to win it.

Argentina still looms as a threat to Brazil's title defense, but now as a visiting team.

Argentina and Colombia were dropped as tournament co-hosts before Brazil contentiously stepped in late to stage the continental championship.

Being away from home takes some pressure off Lionel Messi and his Argentina team.

The Copa America will kick off Sunday with defending champion Brazil against Venezuela at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia. The final will be on July 10 at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, one of the COVID-19 epicenters in Brazil, where more than 480,000 have died from the coronavirus.

No spectators will be allowed to attend any Copa America matches because of restrictions in place for the pandemic, which has already delayed the tournament by a year.

Brazil players ended speculation about a potential boycott by issuing a unified statement on Wednesday saying they are “unsatisfied” with the decision to move the tournament to their country, but it wouldn't stop them representing their national team.

And if South American World Cup qualifiers are anything to go by, the Copa America title is Brazil's to lose. Brazil has won all six of its games and is six points clear of second place Argentina. With the likes of Neymar on board, coach Tite expects not only to defend the title lifted in 2019, but also use the next 30 days to prepare for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.