Brazil are back on the top of South American football, avenging the nightmare of their 2014 World Cup failure on home soil by overcoming Peru to take the Copa America crown.
It wasn’t always easy for the hosts as Peru held their own in the first half and came within seconds of reaching the interval on level terms, but Brazil had too much quality in the end and were deserved winners.
One man above all others shone to give his team the title, and the performance of Gabriel Jesus kicks off our talking points after the action.
Brazil give thanks for Jesus
Just as he was in the semi-final victory over Argentina, Gabriel Jesus was the star for Brazil as they claimed the Copa America title for the ninth time in total, the first time since 2007, and the first time on home soil since 1989.
The Manchester city man, who has operated chiefly on the right flank throughout this tournament, was at the centre of the action from the 15th minute onwards when he produced some marvelous trickery on the flank to deliver a perfect cross to the far post, where Everton was able to sweep home for the opening goal.
After Peru equalized, Jesus then showed the other side of his attacking game by latching onto Arthur’s through ball and dispatching a clinical finish into the bottom left corner to restore his team’s advantage just before the break.
The evening then took an unwanted twist for Jesus as he was harshly sent off, collecting a second yellow card for an innocuous challenge midway through the second half. That dismissal left him in tears, but he had already done enough, with Jesus confirming himself as the star of the show for this victorious Brazilian side.
Peruvian heads high despite defeat
Peru were unable to fulfill their dream of taking the title, but they will be proud of their efforts especially during a closely fought first half which saw them go toe to toe with the hosts.
The opening stages were spent almost exclusively in Brazil’s half as the visitors made an impressively confident start. Christian Cueva and Renato Tapia both fired ambitious long range shots off the mark before Brazil had managed to get anywhere near the opposition goal, and it came against the run of play when Jesus set up Everton for the opening goal with Brazil’s first real attack.
Even then, though, the hosts struggled to find their flow and it was far from undeserved when Peru got back on level terms before the break as Thiago Silva handled and Paolo Guerrero stroked home the resulting penalty.
The wind was taken out of the visiting team’s sails almost immediately, though, as Yoshimar Yotun dwelt in possession, Roberto Firmino took the ball off him, Arthur fed Jesus and the Manchester City man applied a neat finish. That was a devastating blow for Peru. Coming back once against Brazil in the Maracana had been difficult enough, and doing it twice proved to be on them. But at least they could depart the tournament with heads held high, having achieved for more than anyone could have expected.
Who needs Neymar?
At the start of the tournament, the Brazil camp occasionally appeared to be a little more than the setting for the latest episodes of the Neymar soap opera. The iconic forward was relieved of the captaincy in the wake of rape allegations, and was then ruled out of the tournament after suffering an injury in the warm-up phase.
Over the course of the last few weeks, however, Neymar has been consign to the status of forgotten man with his team advancing to glory in his absence and a couple of individuals – especially new star Everton and Jesus – stepping up to fill his boots.
These are dangerous days for the man who was once reckoned to be Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s obvious heir as the greatest player on earth. Neymar’s move to Paris St Germain has clearly worked out very badly and he obviously realises the importance of moving on this summer. But his current club will not let him go easily, Barcelona’s board is divided over his signing, many fans are tiring of his showboating antics, and now his national team don’t even need his services to become continental champions.
As Brazil celebrates, no doubt Neymar will be feeling rather rueful. This could prove to be the wake up call he needs.
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