Favorites Brazil must win even without Neymar, says Casemiro

Sao Paulo (AFP) –


Star forward Neymar's injury absence changes nothing for Brazil at the Copa America, midfielder Casemiro said on Thursday, insisting that the hosts must triumph come what may.

Neymar will miss the South American showpiece after injuring ankle ligaments last week in the Selecao's penultimate competition warm-up friendly match.

His untimely injury came as the Paris Saint-Germain forward faced accusations from a Brazilian model that he sexually assaulted her in a hotel in the French capital.

"Regardless of the competition we're in, Brazil are favorites and must win," said Real Madrid's Casemiro ahead of Friday's tournament opener against Bolivia in Sao Paulo.

"Without a doubt, even without Neymar -- Brazil's main star -- we're still very strong."

Brazil are aiming for a ninth Copa America success and have claimed victory on all four previous occasions as hosts: in 1919, 1922, 1949 and 1989.

But they haven't lifted the trophy since 2007 when winning for a fourth time in five editions from 1997.

"We know it's going to be a tough match, we know how Bolivia play," said Casemiro of Brazil's first Group A opponents.

"They're very well organized, particularly defensively."

Brazil warmed up for the tournament with victories last week over Qatar (2-0), who will make their Copa America debut as invitees on Sunday, and Honduras (7-0).

Coach Tite's squad are hoping to erase the painful memories of their crushing disappointment five years ago when hosting the World Cup.

A 7-1 semi-final humbling at the hands of Germany put paid to their hopes of landing a first global crown since 2002.

"We're ready, we showed it in these two games, which in my opinion were the best we've played since the World Cup" in Russia last year, added Casemiro.

There Brazil lost 2-1 to Belgium in the quarter-finals.