Brazil were crowned champions of South America for the ninth time on Sunday as the Selecao won the Copa America in their home stadium in Rio de Janeiro after beating unlikely finalists Peru 3-1 in the Maracana.
The Copa hasn’t always been the favourite tournament for the record five time World Cup winners especially in recent years and this was Brazil’s first final since 2007 after three disappointing tournaments of under-achievement previously.
This ninth success at the Copa America closes the gap on 15 times winners Uruguay and 14 times winners Argentina who themselves are without a continental tournament win since 1993.
Victory for Brazil however was widely anticipated this time around as they came into the 2019 tournament in their own country as huge favourites this despite their star player Neymar not making their squad through injury.
Instead Coach Tite relied on work ethic, a solid defence buoyed by a sturdy midfield and a philosophy to get the ball front to back quickly breaking with pace and technique to see them through, and with that philosophy Brazil got off to the perfect start in their group stages beating Bolivia 3-0 with two Coutinho goals and one from unlikely hero Everton who would go on to have a fantastic tournament.
A stumbling 0-0 draw with Venezuela was followed by an emphatic 5-0 victory over Peru with Casemiro, Firmino, Everton, Dani Alves & Willian all netting to send Brazil in to the Quarter Finals as group A winners. Against Paraguay things were much tougher as a scoreless couple of hours resulted in a penalty shoot out despite Paraguay playing half of the match with only ten men. Brazil eventually coming through after La Albirroja missed two of their five spot kicks with one being saved by Alisson. That win led to a Semi Final against their biggest rivals Argentina, Messi and co, and in arguably the performance of the competition they proved too strong, too physical and worked too hard to let anything slip against the old enemy eventually winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Jesus and Firmino. Brazil reaching the final without conceding a goal which was testament to the way Tite set up his squad and largely thanks to an experienced back four and world class goalkeeper all be it who was not called upon too often.
In the final Brazil got off to the perfect start, Gabriel Jesus teasing the Paraguay full back before delivering a perfect cross for Everton to net his third Copa America goal. VAR, never far from controversy in this tournament had a hand in the decision to award Peru a penalty just before half time which was calmly dispatched by the evergreen Paolo Guerrero (the only goal Brazil would concede in the competition). Scores weren’t level for long however as Jesus calmly slotted home a through ball by Artur to give the hosts a 2-1 half time lead.
Things were supposed to go smoothly thereafter for the favourites but Jesus, having got himself a soft yellow card in the first half was then sent off by the Chilean official for another soft coming together on 70 minutes. That gave Peru a lift and in a fast paced enthralling game they came close to an equaliser before VAR again had a say in the dying moments to award Brazil a spot kick after Everton was brought down after a mazy dribble. Substitute Richarlison (who plays his club football for Everton) stepped up to slot home and all but assure the Copa went to Brazil.
Peru were a credit to their nation, but Brazil are the best football country in South America for many reasons, the coach picked the perfectly blended squad and without Neymar the country played as a team without relying on star assets to get them through – instead a front three that worked hard for each other, a back four cushioned by two unbelievable world-class sitters in midfield, a back four with 250 caps between them in front of a goalkeeper of the highest quality.
Many of the Brazil side now play in Europe. Alisson a European Champions League winner with Liverpool in goal. Captain Dani Alves, the irrepressible Thiago Silva, his side kick Marquinhos, all used to winning championship after championnat currently with Paris Saint-Germain. Alex Sandro at left back the flying defensive winger from Juventus, another serial trophy winner.
In midfield Casemiro of Real Madrid and Artur of Barcelona. The latter likened these days to Andres Iniesta for his simple easy on the eye philosophy in keeping possession whilst never looking to pass backwards. The midfield engine Phillipe Coutinho, much better for his country than for his club side Barcelona, always looking to take on players and carry the ball in a positive and confident way.
A front three that includes Gabriel Jesus, a matchwinner on his own and one that may have tearfully blamed himself had Brazil succumbed with ten men, but in reality one who’s trickery and finishing in the final got them to the brink of their trophy win, Roberto Firmino, the hard working, none stop running athlete of Liverpool, a player that always delivers when asked to perform, and the one star on everybody’s lips, the one star yet to conquer Europe, in Gremio winger Everton, the little onion as he’s known due to his likeness to cartoon character Cebolinha (Jimmy Five), is a gritty positive technical speedstar who has similarities to team-mate Richarlison who likewise has a queue of big clubs looking closely at his performances.
With an abundance of quality and youth to choose from this could be the best Brazil squad in a while, with David Neres of Ajax, Lucas Paqueta of AC Milan, the likes of Allan at Napoli, Willian at Chelsea and not to mention the star of all stars Neymar who wasn’t even involved this time around.
For Brazil the World Cup 2022 in Qatar now looks a real possibility, for the likes of Everton 23 years young, still playing in Brazil and eyed up flirtatiously by Europe’s elite, this could be the start of something very beautiful for his exciting looking career.