RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — After only one game, David Neres is already starting to the fill the hole left by Neymar.
The 22-year-old Neres, who played a key role in helping Ajax reach the Champions League semifinals this season, scored his first goal for Brazil’s national team on Sunday in a Copa America warm-up match — a 7-0 win over Honduras.
“David played a great match. When he laid the ball forward before his goal, I said, ‘(The defender) won’t get him anymore,'” Brazil coach Tite said. “He can fluctuate. He is in a high level of confidence. I am already telling you where things are going.”
Neymar was ruled out of the South American tournament after a right ankle injury and Willian was called up as his replacement. But it’s more likely that Neres will be the one to get the starting job in Neymar’s absence.
Neres played on the left wing against Honduras and, although the opposition didn’t offer much resistance, he was one of Brazil’s best in the match with dribbles, runs and that 56th-minute goal that impressed Tite.
But Neres still doesn’t know if he will be on the field when Brazil opens the Copa America on Friday against Bolivia in Sao Paulo.
“I am still growing,” Neres said. “In front of the goal all I could think of was to get it right. I looked at the middle of the box to see if there was anyone free. There wasn’t, so I did it myself.”
Peru and Venezuela are also in Group A at the Copa America.
Neres started impressing Tite in March, when he played 33 minutes in a friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague. He made one assist and took part in other important plays in the 3-1 victory.
Neres started his career at Sao Paulo, and the Copa America will open at the club’s Morumbi Stadium. That has him pretty excited.
“There is an extra flavor to play where I started,” Neres said. “We will miss Neymar in this first match and in the rest of the tournament, but there are many great players here to take this team far in Copa America.”