BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Brazil's elimination from the Copa America won't derail the hosts' preparations for the 2014 World Cup, coach Mano Menezes said Monday.
Menezes believes Brazil improved during the South American competition despite the elimination to Paraguay on penalties in the quarterfinals on Sunday, and expects the team to be at its best again soon.
''Brazil will not be stumbling in 2014,'' he said. ''It will be strong.''
Trying to win its third straight Copa America title, Brazil exited the tournament after only one victory in four matches. It struggled at the beginning but improved as the competition progressed.
The Brazilians outplayed Paraguay from the start on Sunday in La Plata but were unable to capitalize on their numerous scoring opportunities, mostly because of a terrific performance by goalkeeper Justo Villar. Brazil then failed in all four penalty attempts to lose 2-0 in the shootout.
''We have to look back and understand that we improved,'' Menezes said. ''We had our best match by far against Paraguay. We always want to win and the result is important, but we can't forget that we played very well on Sunday.''
Brazil also performed well in a 4-2 win over Ecuador in its last group match. The team started the tournament by drawing 0-0 with Venezuela and then drew 2-2 with Paraguay thanks to a last-minute equalizer.
Menezes, who replaced Dunga after Brazil's disappointing elimination at the World Cup last year, is revamping the national team for the 2014 tournament.
The Copa America was seen as the coach's biggest test so far. He brought a squad mixed with veterans and several promising young stars such as Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso and Alexandre Pato. Menezes is preparing them to lead the squad in 2014, when the pressure to win the title at home will be unprecedented.
''We have to be careful in our evaluation because we've just been eliminated from the competition,'' Menezes said. ''If we had won, it would be all different. We've made some significant changes in this first year and we can't rush to conclusions. We need to try to protect these players which still have to potential to be playing in 2014. We know from experience that we are on the right track.''
Menezes has coached Brazil in 12 matches with a record of six wins, two losses and four draws. The two losses came against Argentina and France, while the wins were against less successful teams such as Ukraine, Romania and Scotland. One of the draws was at home against the Netherlands.
The coach said he is not worried about losing his job despite the negative reaction in Brazil following Sunday's elimination.
''I'll be criticized just like all coaches are when they don't win,'' Menezes said. ''But it seems a (coaching) change now wouldn't help. Argentina has been making changes and we saw that it didn't solve anything.''
Argentina also disappointed in the Copa America, falling to Uruguay on Saturday in a penalty shootout.
The Brazilian football federation has already guaranteed Menezes will remain coach despite Sunday's result, with president Ricardo Teixeira calling after the loss to reassure him that his position is safe.
He isn't getting the same support back in Brazil, though.
''Humiliation,'' read a Monday front-page headline in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Brazil's largest.
''Incompetence,'' said the O Globo daily in Rio de Janeiro.
Fans expressed their disappointment, too.
''These are the best players we have,'' said 27-year-old building manager Gilmar Oliveira in Brasilia. ''I think the problem is the coach, that's why we are going through this embarrassment.''
As host, Brazil won't need to play in the South American World Cup qualifying tournament. The team's next official tournament will be the 2012 Olympics, a competition Brazil has never won, and will then play in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Brazil will play a friendly against Germany in September and then face Argentina twice in September.
Associated Press Writer Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.
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