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SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil’s star players have debated whether or not they should play in the Copa America on home soil but don’t plan to make any public statements on the matter until after their World Cup qualifying games against Ecuador and Paraguay.

The Copa America, awarded to defending champion Brazil after Argentina and Colombia were dropped as co-hosts, has become a contentious issue amid surging COVID-19 cases in the region.

Brazil coach Tite on Thursday said the players had spoken to national soccer confederation president Rogério Caboclo.

“They have an opinion, they exposed it to the president … and they will expose it to the public at the appropriate time. That is why our captain Casemiro is absent today,” Tite told a news conference when asked if his players had requested permission to skip the June 13-July 10 continental championship.

Brazil is set to play Ecuador on Friday and Paraguay next Tuesday in South American qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

The South American soccer confederation chose Brazil as a replacement host earlier this week after Argentina was dropped because of the spread of COVID-19. Colombia was removed as a co-host last month amid street protests against President Iván Duque.

Brazil players, executives and coaching staff haven’t spoken to the media since the decision was announced.

“We asked our athletes to focus only on the match against Ecuador,” Tite said on Thursday. “We have a priority now, to play well and beat Ecuador. We understand that after the two rounds these situations will be clear.”

“I am not avoiding answers and I am giving facts, with the understanding that I have,” Tite added. “Copa America is very important. But our match tomorrow is more important.”

Brazil counts about 470,000 deaths by COVID-19. Health experts are expecting a third wave of infections later this month.


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