Julio Baptista Exclusive Interview: US Could Win Copa América

© Simon Stacpoole/Offside Sports via USA TODAY Sports
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  • US could win Copa América
  • Brazil are in the shadow of Argentina
  • Jude Bellingham set to miss out on Ballon d’Or to Vinicius Jr
  • Being friends with David Beckham is incredible

Former Brazil international forward Julio Baptista has picked out the United States as potential Copa América winners this summer and teen sensation Endrick as a star to watch.

Baptista has also supported the decision to hold the tournament outside of South América and said that Lionel Messi is as big a star as Tom Brady in the United States.

The ex-Arsenal and Real Madrid man has also admitted that Brazil are currently in the shadow of World Cup winners Argentina and backed Neymar to emulate Messi.

Baptista has tipped Vinicius Junior to beat Jude Bellingham to the Ballon d’Or this year because of his heroics in the Champions League.

Q: Who will win the Copa América this summer?

JB: “For me, Argentina are the favourites having won the World Cup in 2022.

“They are the team to beat but Brazil will be strong. There are many strong national teams who can compete so hopefully we get an incredible Copa América.

“Brazil is a possibility but Argentina are the favourites.”

Q: Who will be the star of the Copa América?

JB: “If he plays then Endrick could be a star at Copa América, but I think that Vinicius Junior will do more for the Brazilian team.

“You can also look at Rodrygo, but I think Vinicius needs to do more for the national team. Hopefully now he can show his potential and his talent.”

Q: Who are your dark horses to win the Copa América?

JB: “Brazil and Argentina are the favourites but Uruguay and Colombia are always very tough opponents.

“It all depends on how each nation arrives at the tournament.”

Q: Can the USMNT go all the way and win?

JB: “It will be hard for the United States to win Copa América, but why not?

“It depends on if they believe the work they are doing and the form in which they enter the tournament this summer. But they do have incredible players and I think they could challenge Brazil and Argentina.

“Why not?”

Q: Will Christian Pulisic be their star player?

JB: “Christian Pulisic will be key for the United States but we always see new players appear in major tournaments.”

Q: Are you in favour of the Copa América being played in the United States?

JB: “I think it’s a good thing to have the Copa América in the United States, especially considering that they host the World Cup there in 2026.

“It’s good preparation for the teams involved, I think it makes sense and it won’t matter that it isn’t in South América for one year.”

Q: Could Endrick be the next Neymar for Brazil?

JB: “Endrick has an incredible future but we need to be patient with him because he is under a lot of pressure and expectation because of what he has done so far.

“Real Madrid need to be patient with him, like they were with Vinicius Junior. There is so much young talent coming out of Brazil but that does lead to comparisons.

“He can become an incredible player and be like Ronaldo but he has to make his own career. But he is an incredible acquisition for Real Madrid because he is already an incredible player.”

Q: Is this the weakest Brazil team we have seen in a long time?

JB: “I think this Brazil team just needs time, they need to be patient with players and maybe look towards the World Cup in 2026.

“Brazil can definitely compete to win it, but it won’t be easy because of the strength of national teams at the moment, especially in Europe.“

Q: Are Brazil currently in the shadow of Argentina?

JB: “Brazil are currently in the shadow of Argentina who have done something very special. When you have the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, you create your team around him.

“That helps bring out the talent of other players as long as you select those who can work with him. They have created a perfect atmosphere which is why they won the World Cup.

“Competitions are short so you need to pick all your best players to give you the best chance of having winning moments, Argentina have done well by building around Messi.

“I still think Brazil need to do the same with Neymar, he has the potential to be what Messi is for Argentina.”

© Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

© Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Q: Could Vini Jr, Rodrygo and Endrick be the new Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho?

JB: “Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Endrick could be the new Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, led by Vinicius Junior.

“He has decided so many games and he is always there in the big moments, that is the sign of an incredible player. I think he is the best player in world football at the moment.”

Q: Who will win the Ballon d’Or, Vini Jr or Jude Bellingham?

 JB: “Vinicius Junior is ahead of Jude Bellingham in the race for the Ballon d’Or because he is always there to score goals in the big moments.

“Deciding big games in the Champions League is crucial if you want to be called the best player in the world, that’s why Vinicius is in front.”

Q: Is it embarrassing for Brazil to be rejected by Carlo Ancelotti?

JB: “It’s not embarrassing for Brazil that Carlo Ancelotti decided to stay at Real Madrid, he’s an incredible manager so Brazil got in contact to see what his plans were.

“But at the same time we have some incredible Brazilian coaches who can manage the national team. Ancelotti is doing the best thing in continuing with Real Madrid.

“I think what is most important is that we have time to create the new national team with the new generation so we can compete for major honours.”

Q: How good is Estevao Willian? Who has been compared to Messi and is set to join Chelsea?

JB: “Estevao Willian is an incredible talent coming out of Brazil but I don’t like him being compared to a player like Lionel Messi.

“The talent coming out of Brazil is incredible but the expectation can weigh on them a little bit.

“But he can become an incredible player and is a great signing for Chelsea.”

Q: Which young Brazil star would you love Arsenal to sign?

JB: “I would love to see young Brazilian talent at Arsenal, they have become again what they used to be in the past in challenging for trophies.

“They got to the Champions League quarter-finals and have been fighting for the Premier League, they are back to being an incredible club with incredible players.”

Q: Is Lionel Messi still good enough to play at the very highest level?

JB: “Lionel Messi still has what it takes to play at the highest level in Europe, but the pressure on him would be so high.

“He wanted to do something different in his career because he has won everything there is to win. To go to the MLS and face a new challenge, he isn’t under pressure to be the best player in the world everyday anymore.

“He has won the Ballon d’Or eight times, the Champions League three times, 12 league titles, the Copa América and the World Cup.

“Now he has decided to change his vision and take care of his family, but the competition in the United States is still hard and he is doing very well.”

© David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

© David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

Q: Could Lionel Messi be as big as LeBron James and Tom Brady in América?

JB: “Football isn’t the number one sport in América but it is very strong, what they are doing for football is incredible now they have the eight time best player in the world.

“So you don’t need to tell people who he is, he is at the same level as these sort of people (Tom Brady and LeBron James).”

Q: Who is the GOAT, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?

JB: “Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are incredible players, but I would rate Messi slightly higher. I think because they both played in the same league for Real Madrid and Barcelona it created an incredible rivalry.

“There was so much expectation on them and they both have delivered, Ronaldo is unbelievable but Messi is a genius, winning the Ballon d’Or eight times says it all.

“They are the best players of the last 20 years and probably in the history of football.”

Q: Would you rate Messi slightly higher than Ronaldo?

JB: “Yes.”

Q: What was David Beckham like on and off the pitch?

JB: “It was an incredible experience to play alongside and have a friendship with David Beckham at Real Madrid. He’s an incredible person.

“Now that I’m a coach I always tell my players to be like David Beckham because he is so humble for an incredible person. Everyone would wait at the stadium for his signature and he would sign every single one. I remember it was the same at the training ground.

“He used to come around to my house for lunch and that was an incredible experience and an incredible time we shared together in Madrid.

“Now he is an owner at Inter Miami and he is doing an incredible job, all I would say to him now is congratulations because it’s not easy.”

Q: What has gone wrong for Casemiro at Manchester United?

JB: “I think the big problem with Casemiro is that he has lost his confidence. People have told him that he is getting older but I think it’s the confidence.

“He has been in and out of the team so he isn’t as confident and that has put him in a bad moment. He is an incredible player and he just needs support.

“If Erik ten Hag doesn’t have the confidence in him then he won’t have it in himself. Casemiro has a strong mind so I would advise him to continue to work hard and he will find his form.”

Q: Could Kylian Mbappe’s arrival disrupt Vini Jr at Real Madrid?

JB: “I don’t think that Kylian Mbappe going to Real Madrid will disrupt Vinicius Jr. When you have incredible players on your hands like Vinicius Jr and Mbappe, it doesn’t matter what positions they are in.

“They are both incredible players and I think that Carlo Ancelotti has already changed the position of Vinicius and he continues to give Real Madrid his gifts.

“I don’t think their positions will be important, Real Madrid is just about having many big players in the same team.”

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Copa América represents a substantial opportunity for the best sportsbooks in the US. They are preparing to draw your attention with some of the top sportsbook promos slated for 2024. Given the densely packed schedule – 32 matches across 14 host cities – it’s an ideal time to place your first bet with a new sportsbook. These premier sportsbooks sweeten the deal further by offering a welcoming bonus that you can use on bets for other games or on choosing the outright winner of Copa América.

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