Does Brazil even care about the Copa America Centenario? It's a valid question to ask after they named a squad that doesn't include a number of important players, but the biggest eyebrow-raiser of them all is the absence of Neymar, Brazil's best player and captain.
Brazil chose to withhold Neymar for the Olympics later in the summer, and perhaps other notable players like PSG's David Luiz and Lucas Moura, or Liverpool's Roberto Firmino, will wind up on the squad that will go for gold on home soil in Rio. The message sent by their exclusion from the Copa squad is clearly that Brazil values Olympic gold more than a special one-off expanded version of the Copa.
But what if that actually works out for those of us watching the tournament?
Make no mistake, Brazil is very, very good. On pure talent, they're absolutely one of the best national sides in the world. But for much of the last decade, they've been boring. Even with the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho, and now Neymar leading their teams, they play matches that fail to inspire the awe that it seems like they should. Sure, there are moments of flash when their attack really gets rolling, but in between there's a lot of defensive play, leaning on bruising midfielders thumping opponents off the ball and lumping the ball forward.
But when you look at this squad, you can't help but think they might be more fun than they were in the past two major tournaments they played.
It's not just the talent, either. With Brazil's focus elsewhere and their seeming dismissal of the Copa America this year, there's no pressure on this team to perform. That pressure seemed to get to Brazil in last year's Copa America as well as in the World Cup they hosted two years ago. In both cases, Brazil entered as favorites, but never really seemed to get up to full steam, often too afraid to lose and not taking the risks they needed to because of it. Ultimately they cracked under the pressure both times, getting played off the pitch by Germany in the World Cup, and falling to lowly Paraguay in the first knockout round of the Copa a year ago.
This team, though, has no such pressure. They can play with freedom and without the restrictions of the "favorites" label — Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay can deal with that instead. Meanwhile, Brazil will be bringing a young squad with a greater variety of attacking talent than normal to the tournament, and there's a greater potential for fun in this team than we've seen from a Brazil side in recent memory.
Sure, there's the usual solid-looking defensive midfield base, but even the likes of Luiz Gustavo and Casemiro offer more going forward than the typical Brazil midfield we've gotten used to seeing. The combinations in attack ahead of them are endless — Philippe Coutinho, Hulk, and Willian offer an experienced and massively talented attacking unit that can come at opponents in a lot of different ways, and they'll be supported by an in-form Kaka, given one last chance to lead his country to glory after Douglas Costa's injury. Throw in further options like Rafinha, Renato Augusto, Lucas Lima, Gabriel, and Ricardo Oliveira, and Brazil's attack has so many different options of how to play that opposing coaches will be dizzy trying to figure them all out.
Of course, there's every chance that this team winds up just not being very good. The defense looks shaky, relying on several players like Joao Miranda and Marquinhos who had unremarkable or wildly inconsistent club seasons. Their options in goal aren't stellar. The attack could get too clever and varied for its own good if Dunga isn't careful about how he employs it. Brazil may come to desperately miss the top-shelf talent they left behind.
But even if all of that goes pear-shaped, the chance of the team being actually fun, legitimately interesting, and delightfully entertaining is worth the risk. Brazil has been good for a very long time, but somewhere along the way they forgot how to be Brazil. This tournament could remind them of who they're supposed to be, and if they can figure out how to be as entertaining as they are effective, the world of soccer could be in a whole lot of trouble.