AP NEWS

Willian practices with Brazilian team ahead of Copa América

June 8, 2019
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Brazil's Willian, center, attends a practice session of the national soccer team in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Saturday, June 8, 2019. Tite picked Willian on Friday to replace the injured Neymar for the Copa America. (AP Photo/Edison Vara)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Chelsea forward who is replacing injured soccer star Neymar on Brazil’s Copa América squad began practicing with the team on Saturday.

The naming of Willian to Brazil’s national team comes after Neymar suffered an ankle injury in a friendly against Qatar Wednesday and as the Brazilian star faces a rape allegation. He denies the accusation.

“I am here to help in the best possible way. If (the coach) needs me for a few minutes, I’m ready to play,” Willian told The Associated Press.

Willian, 30, has played 65 games with Brazil’s national team and scored eight goals. He last played in the May 29 final of the Europa League between Chelsea and Arsenal.

Brazil plays Honduras on Sunday in a friendly match ahead of the Copa América.

Neymar’s European league club, Paris Saint-Germain, said the Brazilian player had suffered a “severe external lateral ligament sprain” to his ankle in the Qatar friendly.

Two team doctors say Neymar “is expected to return to the field in four weeks,” according to a team statement.

Neymar’s injury came shortly after a 26-year-old model accused him of raping her in a Paris hotel on May 15.

Najila Trindade testified to Sao Paulo police for about six hours on Friday. In an earlier SBT television interview, she said Neymar became aggressive after she refused to have unprotected sex with him. She said the player had sexual intercourse with her despite her refusal and hit her repeatedly.

The Associated Press doesn’t name alleged sexual assault victims unless they make their identities public, which Trindade did in the television interviews earlier this week.

Neymar has yet to testify in the case but his image rights holder, NR Sports, said in a statement Friday that it is working with the player’s legal team to “shorten the completion of police process and prove his innocence.”

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