Vini Jr - Stepping up without NeymarGetty

Vinicius Jr: With Neymar out, there’s no place at Copa America for Real Madrid's brilliant Brazilian to hide

Vinicius Jr wasn't on the pitch when Brazil stepped up to take penalties against Croatia. It was Dec. 9, 2022, a World Cup quarterfinal at Education City Stadium in Qatar. The Selecao spent 120 minutes dominating their opponents. The shot totals, possession margin and expected goals suggested that this should have been an overwhelming victory.

Instead, it culminated in a penalty loss. And while Neymar stared at the ground in disbelief, Vinicius watched from the touchline. The Real Madrid man had wandered through his 64 minutes on the pitch aimlessly, rendered ineffective. Brazil, in truth, looked better without him.

Such has been the case for long stretches of Vinicius' Selecao career. The Madrid man, for all of his brilliance for his club, has never pieced together a complete performance for his national team. There have been glimpses of quality, and some eye-catching moments, but a standout showing, when the stakes are at their highest, has proved elusive.

And now, that will have to change. With Neymar out for the Copa America with a torn ACL, it is Vinicius who has to carry the load for this Brazil side, and be the big-game player he has shown he can be with Madrid. Only this time, it will have to come in Brazil colors.

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