Football

Neymar rape scandal overshadows Copa America kick-off

Brazil, hosts for the Copa America, should have been gearing up for another major home sporting spectacle with renewed optimism that star forward Neymar would help bring to an end a 12-year trophy drought.

They open the tournament in Sao Paulo tomorrow morning (Singapore time) against Bolivia, winners on home soil in 1963. Instead, the Selecao's golden boy is dominating the build-up to a tournament he will miss due to an ankle injury for all the wrong reasons.

Neymar is embroiled in a rape scandal in which he has been accused of forcing himself on a model he met through social media in a hotel room in the French capital, where he plies his club trade for Paris Saint-Germain.

It's tarnished the festive atmosphere of South America's footballing showpiece with an ugly affair that shows no sign of going away, despite Najila Trindade Mendes de Souza's rapidly unravelling case.

After the debacle of Brazil's 7-1 semi-final humbling by Germany in their home World Cup five years ago, and the fallout from the huge amount of money wasted on hosting both the global football showpiece and the Olympics in the space of two years, the country could have done without such a sordid affair.

Coach Tite insists that Brazil are still in fine fettle ahead of the tournament, which they haven't won since 2007, when they outclassed Lionel Messi's Argentina 3-0 in the final.

Tite admitted Neymar would be missed, but added: "Inside the squad we're much more focused on working hard, training well, preparing for matches, which has been our main focus."

The Selecao's last warm-up match was a 7-0 thrashing of 10-man Honduras in which Neymar's absence certainly wasn't felt, with his substitute David Neres scoring in the rout. - AFP

Football