SAO PAULO (Reuters) – They play football on a dirt field and they probably won’t see Neymar or Lionel Messi up close, but the soccer-mad children who live near Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium couldn’t be more excited about the start of the 2021 Copa America.
The tournament kicks off on Sunday when the host nation takes on Venezuela.
“It’s a dream for me, I’ve never seen Messi, Neymar, those expensive players that are very difficult to see in the flesh,” said 11-year old Emanoel Lopes de Oliveira, one of many kids wearing replica shirts. “If I could see them it would be incredible.”
The Copa America is South America’s equivalent of the Euros and takes place in parallel to the European tournament, kicking off on June 13 and ending with the final at the Maracana stadium on July 10.
Brazil surprisingly agreed to host the tournament barely two weeks before it was due to begin, even though almost half a million people have died from COVID-19 there.
“We are in a very difficult moment with the pandemic, it’s frustrating not being able to see (the games) in the stadiums but just knowing that the Copa America is in the same country where they live, gives them hope,” said coach Vivaldo Perrera dos Santos.
“It’s a real inspiration for them, they dream about being these players, but our work here is to make them citizens, not just footballers,” he added.
Brazil are favourites to repeat their win in 2019.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)