No Vinicius Jr for Brazil against Uruguay: Over to you, Endrick


“People are always saying that Brazil have to learn to play without our big stars. I think now is the moment. Others will have to step up. That’s the way forward.”

Dorival Junior was only just beginning to digest Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Colombia but already thoughts were turning to his side’s next game. One question in particular was on everybody’s lips: how would Brazil cope without Vinicius Junior against Uruguay?

The 23-year-old’s yellow card in Santa Clara — his second of the group stage — meant he would miss the Copa America quarter-final through suspension. It created a headache for Dorival — another headache, really, given how laboured Brazil have been for much of this tournament so far.

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The players could not hide their concern. “It won’t be easy because it’s Vini,” said Endrick. “You can see how much he contributes. It’ll be tough to be without him.”

Danilo, the captain, echoed that view. “Vini is a star, a player who wins games for us,” he said. “We just have to find some way of overcoming his absence.”

On one level, it is a near impossible task. No other player in the first-choice XI has anything like the same aura. With Neymar still out injured, Vinicius is the team’s talisman — the craque, as Brazilians say — and relishes the responsibility of that status. Even when he is being double- or triple-marked, he is capable of producing a spark, getting his team-mates going and bringing the crowd into play.

Against Paraguay, when Brazil really needed a win, he spent much of the first half revving up supporters, turning nervous murmurs into impassioned roars.

Brazil


Vinicius Jr celebrates scoring against Paraguay (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)

It is unclear which of the established players will take up the leadership baton against Uruguay. Lucas Paqueta is a sublime talent but a subtle one; he was also taken off at half time against Colombia. Rodrygo, so effective at club level for Real Madrid, has had an incredibly quiet tournament to this point. Raphinha is probably the closest match to Vinicius in terms of personality but it is a lot to ask of him to put the team on his shoulders.

For Dorival, of course, there was also a rather more prosaic question to answer: who should come into the side?

The Brazilian media spent three days going through the options.

Gabriel Martinelli? He is right-footed, loves dribbling at defenders and provides a Vinicius-like threat on the counter-attack, but he hasn’t been in great form.

Savinho? The Girona winger made an impact off the bench in Brazil’s Group D opener against Costa Rica, then scored after starting the Paraguay match. Some expected Dorival to play him on the right and move Raphinha across to the left, as he did when Savinho came on against Colombia.

Many, though, fancied a third option.

Endrick, Brazil’s 17-year-old darling, scored his first international goal against England in March. He repeated the trick against Spain a few days later, then made it three in three when the Selecao faced Mexico in a friendly before the Copa America. That sequence sent the hype machine into overdrive, raising expectations that this would be a breakout tournament for the youngster.

It hasn’t worked out that way so far. Endrick played only 34 minutes in the group stage — not enough to make any kind of impression. Dorival preached patience earlier in the week, which was probably sensible given Endrick’s age, but did little to dampen the growing clamour for his inclusion back in Brazil.

“Endrick went to the Copa America with momentum, scoring goals, but he only plays a few minutes here and there,” said former Selecao striker Walter Casagrande. “He’s taking away some of his shine.”

Juca Kfouri, a respected columnist at the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, echoed that view. “Dorival has created a bureaucratic team,” he wrote. “He seems incapable of doing anything a bit daring, like playing Endrick.”

The critics might now fall quiet for a spell. Because on Friday afternoon, Dorival confirmed that his front three at the Allegiant Stadium will be Rodrygo, Raphinha and… Endrick.

“We lost an important player, but we gained another kid who is looking for his chance,” said Dorival. “Who knows, this could be Endrick’s moment.”

Vinicius Junior, Endrick, Brazil


Endrick replaces Vinicius Jr against Costa Rica (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Daring enough for you? A knockout game against an impressive Uruguay team is the definition of a deep end; throwing a teenager in could easily be viewed as foolhardy, maybe even irresponsible. Endrick, though, is no shrinking violet. He has played in huge Copa Libertadores matches for his club, Palmeiras. He may be young but he has an old head on his shoulders. These things are always hard to judge before time, but he looks ready.

Endrick also exudes star power, even at this age. Perhaps this was part of Dorival’s thinking. If a player other than Vinicius had been out, he might well have been more conservative. But Brazil don’t just need someone to combine with the midfielders and trouble Uruguay’s defenders; they need someone to inspire them, to put a swagger into their step.

They need that tingle, that buzz, that crackle of anticipation, that intangible something that quickens the pulse. Whatever happens to Endrick in the rest of his career, he has that at this moment in time.

When your superstar is out, it’s time to promote your superstar-in-waiting. Over to you, kid.

(Top photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)



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