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How Chelsea and Manchester United linked-Marquinhos became the symbol of Copa America favourites Brazil

08:00 BST 17/06/2021
Marquinhos Brazil vs Venezuela Copa America 2021
The in-demand 27-year-old is now the senior partner in the Selecao's defence as he stars alongside young Madrid man Eder Militao

After the first round of fixtures in the 2021 Copa America, there is one puzzle all the other teams must solve: how to stop Brazil waltzing to their second consecutive triumph in the competition.

Tite's Selecao are rarely exhilarating in the best traditions of the famous football nation, but they are just as relentless in their pursuit of victory.

Sunday's 3-0 drubbing of a Venezuela team decimated by an outbreak of coronavirus was their ninth in competitive action, and marked them out – if there were any doubt – as the team to beat in their own backyard.

Far from the free-spirited, inspirational play often associated with Brazil, their true strength lies at the back; with Marquinhos in particular just as crucial, if not more so, to the team's formidable form as the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino further up the field.

The Paris Saint-Germain defender kept up his impressive recent record of important goals by opening the scoring against Venezuela by way of an improvised, acrobatic flick when Brazil were struggling to break down their under-strength yet fiercely determined hosts.

All defenders love to see their name on the score-sheet, but the centre-back's most important role is as their enforcer.

He has played in every one of those nine straight victories, stretching back to their successful 2019 Copa campaign, during which time the Selecao have conceded a miserly three goals and shut out both Lionel Messi's Argentina and Edinson Cavani and Uruguay while barely breaking sweat.

This new Copa has seen him take on even more responsibility. For years Marquinhos acted as foil to the hugely experienced ex-captain Thiago Silva, forming a water-tight partnership both at international level and with PSG.

Now, though, with Silva struggling for fitness, Tite has turned to 23-year-old Real Madrid star Eder Militao, who has started all of the three games Brazil have played in 2021.

The transition has been seamless thanks to the talent and maturity of the older man, who also received the honour of leading his team out as captain in their 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Paraguay at the start of June.

“I am very happy to have helped. Our main job is to make sure the team doesn't concede, but if we can help in attack all the better,” Marquinhos told reporters following victory over Venezuela.

“I try to take maximum advantage of all my scoring chances. We know it is important to score, even if we are in defence.”

The former Corinthians and Roma man, 27, has always been mature beyond his years.

He was still a teenager with just six Serie A games under his belt when the Italians swooped to take him from his native Sao Paulo in 2012, having first picked up a Copa Libertadores winner's medal as a non-playing substitute.

By the end of his debut season in Europe, he had already established himself in the club's first team and done enough to convince PSG to sign him as Silva's defensive partner (and long-term heir).

Whether Marquinhos will follow Silva's lead in leaving France, after eight years and six Ligue 1 titles, remains to be seen this summer.

Chelsea, under former PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, and Manchester United have both been linked with his services, while Real Madrid are also reportedly considering pairing him up with Militao at the Santiago Bernabeu as an elite replacement for the outgoing Sergio Ramos. The defender, though, while admitting that he had the chance to move on, insists he is committed to the Parisians.

“We really have a great history together and I think I will stay here for a long time,” he told France Bleu in February.

“When you come to a club, above all with PSG's ambition, you think big, about making history. There have been good moments and difficult times along the way.

“I had offers to leave, but the club immediately showed the trust they had in me, and that's why I'm here now.”

Unflappable in the middle of defence, firm but clean in the tackle and extremely proficient in moving the ball out from the back, it is easy to see why Marquinhos has most of Europe's elite at his door.

For now, though, the focus is on the Selecao and clinching a perfect 10 victories on Thursday against Peru, who are likely to pose somewhat more of a threat to Tite's backline than they experienced on the opening day of the Copa.

Marquinhos, Militao and Silva are likely to rotate often in these early stages, as their coach strives to keep all his charges fresh for when the real challenge begins from the quarters onwards. But when the action does heat up, it will be the PSG man who leads from the back, pushing Brazil on as they strive for yet more silverware on home soil.