The test is over. The moment of truth has come for Brazil and Ecuador in their Copa America Centenario debuts.
Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Brazil and Ecuador will close the first matchday of Group B, entering the game knowing the result of the Peru vs. Haiti match. That will put much more pressure on both teams to win, which could nearly guarantee a ticket to the next round.
The scenario is simple: If Peru defeat Haiti in the opening game by multiple goals, a draw between the Brazilians and Ecuadorians would only complicate the chances of either team to making it to the next round. It would become a must-win game for them.
Although historically Brazil have a big lead over Ecuador – in 29 games played in all competitions, Brazil hold a record of 24 victories, three draws and two losses -- the current form of the sides is the exact opposite.
Ecuador currently sit atop the CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying standings alongside Uruguay with 13 points, while Brazil is in sixth place with nine points.
It's a dark outlook for Brazil, currently dealing with multiple changes to their roster due to injuries, aside from the anticipated absence of their biggest star, Neymar, who will play the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Here are three key things you need to know about this game:
Is this the weakest Brazil roster in recent history?
A total of six roster changes by Brazil has taken place ahead of their debut in the tournament. The infamous “injuries” have been the common denominator for Brazil, a nightmare that has deprived head coach Dunga from finding the ideal starting lineup ahead of Saturday’s game.
And the epidemic is not over. Inter Milan defender Miranda is currently nursing muscle problems, he is not training with the rest of the group, and his status is questionable ahead of the game.
Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos will be an option for Dunga to replace Miranda, as in the last two training sessions the defender was paired with Gil, Dani Alves and Filipe Luis. The team is completed by Casemiro, Elias, Renato Augusto, Philippe Coutinho, Willian and Jonas.
What are Brazil’s hopes for Copa America? Gabigol, a 19 year-old striker from Santos that many experts call the successor to Neymar.
Ecuador, accidental favorites in Group B?
"We do not consider ourselves favorites in our group," said Ecuadorian defender Frickson Erazo on Thursday.
Perhaps, the Atletico Mineiro defender tried to deflect pressure since for Ecuador there is a competitive obligation in Copa America, a tournament that has been elusive in their soccer history.
But the truth is that collectively, Ecuador look much more compact as a team, keeping the base roster that started the World Cup qualifiers in great shape.
The arrivals of Monterrey left back and captain Walter Ayovi, and Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia -- who were absent from the recent friendly vs. the USA -- give much more depth to the team.
However, the big concern is still the defense, as the two central defenders are not fully fit ahead of Saturday’s game. Erazo is still recovering from muscle problems and Gabriel Achilier is not yet at his best level. Coach Gustavo Quinteros has a tricky decision on whether risk Erazo or pair Achilier with defender Arturo Mina, who is in great form with his team Independiente del Valle in Copa Libertadores.
Gabigol, the breakout star?
“Gabigol” is Brazil’s hope in Copa America Centenario and the ace under Dunga’s sleeve.
Gabriel Barbosa is a 19-year–old striker who has amazed Santos fans, and for many experts, he will be the successor of Neymar for La Canarinha.
At his young age, Gabigol holds a record of 19 goals in 74 games with Santos since his debut in 2013, while having another 18 goals between the U-20 and U-23 Brazil national teams.
Gabigol has incredible goal-scoring skills, and he is capable of rotating positions up front playing either as a No. 9 or as a winger.
In addition to his speed and excellent ball touch, he is great with headers and has an impeccable touch in executing free kicks.