Brazilian stars Robinho and Diego have been talking up this year’s Copa as their generation’s chance to leave behind their failure to qualify for the 2004 Olympics, when as the stars of the Under-23 squad they failed to make it to Athens.
But there is another generation in this Brazil squad – the Santos squad of the early years of the decade – and the Copa is their chance to become the backbone of the Brazil national side for the next World Cup campaign.
As well as Diego and Robinho Brazil’s likely starting 11 tonight also includes ex-Santistas Alex and Elano. All four were part of the Santos side that won the hearts of many Brazilians with their thrilling attacking football on the way to a first Brazilian national title in 2002.
Since then they have gone some but not all of the way to fulfilling the potential shown then. Robinho guided Santos to a second title in 2004 and has just helped Real Madrid win the Spanish title, though without ever really justifying the hype that surrounded his arrival.
Diego comes to Venezuela having just been voted German player of the year for his work at Bremen following a difficult spell at Porto. Alex will move to Chelsea after the Copa after having become a hero for PSV fans with his uncompromising defending and a nose for goals. Meanwhile Elano is desperate to get out of the Ukraine and must surely be hoping that a good Copa will speed his exit to a more glamourous league.
For this Santos Class of 2002 a Copa triumph would be a very welcome next step in living up to their early promise.