Neymar and Sanchez return for Copa America knockout match

RIO DE JANEIRO — Defending champion Brazil and Chile will have their star players back in action when they meet in the Copa America quarterfinals on Friday.

Neymar will return for Brazil and Alexis Sánchez has recovered from a calf muscle injury ahead of the encounter at the Nilton Santos Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

The Seleçao spared a group of regular starters in the 1-1 draw with Ecuador on Sunday, resting Neymar, defender Thiago Silva and striker Gabriel Jesus. Others, including Casemiro, entered as substitutes in that game.

Brazil, with three wins in four Copa America matches, is the clear favorite to win. Chile’s only win in the group stage was against Bolivia and it is lacking the kind of form that inspired its back-to-back championship wins in 2015 and ’16.

The last memorable match between Brazil and Chile was in the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup. Regular time ended 1-1, with goals by David Luiz and Sánchez. The Chileans almost beat the hosts in extra time, with a strike by Mauricio Pinilla hitting the bar in the last minute.

But Brazil won on penalties, 3-2 — Pinilla also missed his from the spot. Thiago Silva, who could start on Friday, was marked by that match for his tears of tension during the shootout.

“I didn’t program myself to get emotional. It just happened,” Silva told a news conference Wednesday. “I was labelled negatively for that moment against Chile. It was very sad for me for a long time, but it was also a learning experience so I could prepare myself for other objectives, decisive matches.”

Sánchez missed Chile’s group-stage matches and his absence affected the team’s production; La Roja only tallied three goals, with Eduardo Vargas scoring twice and Ben Brereton once.

Coach Martín Lasarte will decide after Thursday’s practice whether 32-year-old Sánchez will start against Brazil or come off the bench.

“To play against the host is always difficult, but Brazil is also the team that is possibly in best shape,” Lasarte said. “We have to play our best match so far. That is always possible. We will try to annul their virtues and explore their flaws.”

Also on Friday, 2019 Copa America runner-up Peru will take on Paraguay at the Olimpico Stadium in Goiania. The winner will face Brazil or Chile in the semifinals in Rio.

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