By Samindra Kunti in Sao Paulo, Brazil
June 24 – Brazil crushed Peru 5-0 after a devastating first half to ensure a spot in the last eight at the Copa America on home soil. Rivals Argentina will join the hosts in the quarter-finals at the expense of Qatar after a 2-0 win over the Asian champions.
For different reasons South America’s two power houses were under immense pressure going into the last round of matches in the group stages, but Brazil and Argentina both delivered to progress to the knockout stages.
A boisterous Arena Corinthians welcomed FIFA president Gianni Infantino for the only Copa America game he will attend. With 42,300 fans in attendance, Conmebol’s blushes were saved, with costly tickets having led to many empty seats in other Brazil stadia.
“The fans will come,” commented Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez. “There are a lot more people and the public is already 15% bigger than in the Copa America in Chile. So it’s a record, in addition to being broadcast in 179 countries.”
Brazil shrugged off labored performances against Bolivia and Venezuela and heavy criticism of Tite’s team to demolish Peru and regain form ahead of the knockout phases. The Brazilians fielded a 4-1-4-1 formation and the system of old, which left the team too open against Belgium at the World Cup according to Tite, worked wonders. After a difficult few opening minutes, the hosts turned on the style delighting the partisan crowd with some incisive passing and quick counterattacks.
With a header from a set piece Casemiro opened the score before picking up a booking that will see him out of the quarterfinals. Liverpool’s Firmino doubled the lead with a no-look goal after a howler from Peru’s goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. From the wings Gabriel Jesus and Everton Cebolinha caused Peru all sorts of problems and the latter netted his second goal of the tournament drifting in from the left to surprise Gallese in the 32nd minute.
Brazil were liberated. They elicited ‘oles’ from the notoriously critical Paulista crowd, who had booed the Seleção during the opening game at the Morumbi. Casemiro dug in, Arthur marshaled the midfield, Coutinho roamed untehtered and Everton’s impact on the left was electric. With the game reduced to a training exercise the question was not if Brazil were going to win but by how many? Daniel Alves scored a beautifully worked goal following double passes with Arthur and Firmino and substitute Willian from Chelsea completed the scoreline with a curler from outside the box. Brazil top Group A and will travel to Porte Alegre for their quarter-final.
On Sunday Argentina were far less convincing in Porte Alegre, but progressed nonetheless from Group B after a poor 2-0 win against Qatar. The Argentineans have endured a torrid Copa America so far with hugely underwhelming performances and a caretaker coach who seems to have lost control of the dressing room in echoes of the Albiceleste’s World Cup campaign in Russia. Against Qatar, Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero scored either side of the half, but there were few other positives from another stuttering 90 minutes in which Lionel Messi was peripheral and the team at large seemed to have little clue what it was doing or was supposed to do.
Argentina have not won a major title in 26 years and lost the last two Copa America finals against Chile. The team of coach Lionel Scaloni will need to improve markedly in the last eight to stand a chance of progressing against a well organised Venezuela, who defeated Argentina in a friendly 3-1 earlier this year. The two teams will meet on Friday at the Maracana.
Colombia and Chile have already ensured their ticket for the knockout phase with a match to spare. Peru qualify as one of two best-place teams. On Monday Chile meet Uruguay and Japan play Ecuador to decide the two remaining tickets for the next round.
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