Matheus Cunha, Paulinho and Iago have been notable absentees from Rückrunde matchday squads as they’ve been central to helping Brazil qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
bundesliga.com shines a spotlight on the Samba trio that will be central to their country’s defence of their Rio 2016 gold medal in Tokyo this summer.
Club: Hertha Berlin
Having been snapped up by Hertha from Bundesliga rivals RB Leipzig in January, Cunha is yet to make his debut for his new employers due to the CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic duties during January and February that have seen Brazil secure their spot in Japan. The versatile forward - who can play across the front line - will be well remembered for winning the 2019 Bundesliga Goal of the Year with his stunning effort for Leipzig against Leverkusen in last April, and Cunha managed a total of nine goals and three assists in his two years at the club before heading to the capital in search of regular first-team football.
Watch: Matheus Cunha wins the 2019 Bundesliga Goal of the Year
He will have a great chance of nailing down a spot in the Hertha starting XI if his form in Olympic qualifying is anything to go by. Cunha ended the competition as its top goalscorer courtesy of his five strikes in as many games. Hertha coach Jürgen Klinsmann will also be encouraged by his new signing’s very handy knack of scoring important goals along the way. Having scored in two Group B wins that helped secure Brazil’s passage to the final stage, Cunha struck a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Uruguay and hit a brace in his country’s 3-0 victory in their final, must-win, showdown against table toppers Argentina.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Like Cunha, Paulinho arrived on German shores in July 2018 with immense promise and to fervent excitement. Since then, he has similarly found it difficult to secure frequent first-team football but his talent cannot be ignored. The 19-year-old - who can play on either wing or behind the striker - has managed 21 Bundesliga appearances during his year-and-a-half in Leverkusen and this year struck his maiden goal in the top-flight to seal Leverkusen’s 2-0 win at Wolfsburg on Matchday 11, the same team he made his debut against a year earlier.
Watch: Paulinho scores his first Bundesliga goal
Peter Bosz will also have taken note of his young charge’s recent exploits for his country and this qualifying period may be the making of Paulinho. He too made crucial interventions along the way, setting the tone with the only goal of the game in Brazil’s opening win over Peru. From there, Paulinho never looked back. He scored the crucial 75th-minute equaliser in his country’s dramatic come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Paraguay as well as the opening goal against Argentina that preceded Cunha’s double, with Brazil heading for the exit if they didn’t secure three points. Paulinho added four assists to his three strikes, meaning he was involved in more goals (7) than any other player in the tournament.
The Augsburg full-back is the most recent of the list to make the move from Brazil to Germany, signing for Die Fuggerstädter in the summer from Internacional. A knee injury kept Iago out of contention for the first five Bundesliga matchdays before he made his debut in the 3-0 defeat at home to Leverkusen. He would then see himself in and out of the squad before playing the full 90 minutes in each of Augsburg’s final three games of the Hinrunde. The 22-year-old would help his side to wins over Hoffenheim and Fortuna Düsseldorf during that time and scored his first goal for the club in the 4-2 victory over the former.
Watch: Iago grabs his maiden Bundesliga goal
His exploits with Brazil have kept him out of the side since, as Augsburg have lost three out of four of their matches without their young Brazilian left-back. Meanwhile, Iago featured three times for his country, in the win over Paraguay and draws with Colombia and Uruguay. Martin Schmidt will have been another man with an eye trained on Iago’s performances in South America, hoping that his return to Bundesliga duties will sure up the Augsburg defence and allow Philipp Max to do damage further up the left flank.