Brazil’s David Neres (right) celebrates a goal in a friendly  against Honduras on  June 9 (Edison Vara)
Brazil’s David Neres (right) celebrates a goal in a friendly against Honduras on June 9 (Edison Vara)|Associated Press

Soccer - Miller Previews Copa America, Jose Kleberson, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador

Sean Miller

Sean Miller

It is not often that young players in the MLS get a chance to learn from a former Manchester United cult hero and midfielder for the vaunted Brazilian World Cup champion side in 2002.

But the Philadelphia Union players get to do just that. Each day at training, Jose Kleberson, who played for Manchester United 30 times from 2003-2005 (along with a host of other teams), takes the Union youth players out and tries to impart all his knowledge to the future players at the club. It must be working, as after many lean years, Philadelphia sits atop of the MLS Eastern Division standings.

With the 2019 Copa America set to begin in Brazil on Friday, Kleberson spoke exclusively to recently about the tournament, which sees Chile come in as the two-time defending champions.

Kleberson is high on his compatriots chances to win the title on their home soil this summer.

“Brazil can win the Copa America this year," Kleberson said. "I want to be there with all my friends and family in the Maracanâ. Especially if we get to the final against Argentina, it would be great to be there; what an occasion.

“Brazil have a lot of pressure on their shoulders, especially after the World Cup. There is a big expectation on the players to bring the trophy back to Brazil. I remember back in 1989, there was a lot of people in Brazil expecting the team to win the competition. Everyone in Brazil wanted the team to do well and it was a happy time to be in Brazil, especially after winning the trophy against Argentina in the final.”

Even without Neymar, who will miss the tournament with an ankle ligament injury, Brazil is a heavy favorite with 888 Sport to lift the cup at home. The Seleção are currently listed at +115, with Argentina at +375. No other country at the 12-team tournament is less than +700.

Of course, Brazil will most likely have to deal with Lionel Messi and Argentina at some point. Argentina has made four of the last five South American finals, only to be beaten in all four, with three losses in penalties. With Cristiano Ronaldo winning the recent UEFA Nations League Final, to add to his UEFA Euro 2016 title, can Messi finally help Argentina break through and win that elusive national team championship?

"Argentina have a strong rivalry with Brazil," Kleberson said. "That is the team Brazil need to be aware of, especially as they have Lionel Messi. Messi needs to block out the negativity from everyone. People expect him to play the same way playing for Argentina as he does when he plays for Barcelona. He needs to be play with freedom, his fellow teammates need to work hard to win the ball back and find Messi so he can have the ball at his feet.

"I remember when I played with Ronaldinho, I said to him, 'Do not worry about defending, that is my job. I will get you the ball and you do the rest.' I knew he has the ability and the creativity to win us the game.”

Growing up playing football in Brazil, it is almost every player's dream to play for the yellow shirt of the Seleção. Kleberson also spoke about how much it meant to him to play, and why the 2002 team ended up as champions of the world.

“All kids have the dream to grow up and play for the Brazilian national team," Kleberson said. Especially 15 years ago, when players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Cafu were playing. You watch them on the television and think that one day, ‘I could be there.’ Everyone wants to play for the team and the quality of the players is great. Representing your country is just amazing.

“Happiness (was the key to that team). Everyone just loved to play football. Everywhere we went, in the changing room and on the pitch. We were just smiling, we believed in each other! I do not have any bad moments in 2002. We played in 2002 like a family, everyone was close and had a strong bond. We played with true freedom and happiness and really enjoyed playing with each other.”

(Odds provided by 888 Sport)

Brazil . . . +115
Argentina . . . +375
Uruguay . . . +700
Colombia . . . +900
Chile . . . +1100
Peru . . . +2500
Ecuador . . . +3300
Paraguay . . . +3300
Venezuela . . . +4000
Japan . . . +5000
Bolivia . . . +6600
Qatar . . . +8000

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