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.
South Africa stunned hosts Egypt 1-0 to reach the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Seven-time winners Egypt produced a lacklustre display and were punished by Thembinkosi Lorch’s 85th-minute strike.
South Africa, the 1996 winners, are through to just their second quarter-final since 2002 and will face Nigeria on Wednesday.
Egypt struggled to create chances, with their best two openings of the game both being squandered by Trezeguet, while Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah was largely kept quiet.
South Africa were the more dangerous team in the first half and Percy Tau was denied a 22nd-minute opener when his free-kick was tipped over the crossbar by Mohamed El-Shenawy.
The Bafana Bafana also went close with 20 minutes to go when centre-back Thulani Hlatshwayo headed wide but they were not to be denied.
South Africa broke quickly and Lebo Mothiba drew the last defender before squaring for Lorch to confidently sweep beyond El-Shenawy.
Egypt could not muster a response as they failed to reach at least the semi-finals at a home tournament for the first time.
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The Barcelona midfielder was shown a straight red card towards the end of the first half following a confrontation with former Cardiff midfielder Gary Medel, who was also dismissed.
Messi, though, appeared to have been hard done by, with Chile defender Medel appearing to push his head towards the Argentina playmaker as they squared up, chest to chest.
Argentina, beaten by hosts Brazil in the semi-final, had taken an early lead through Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero.
Chile – whose semi-final defeat by Peru ended hopes of a third straight Copa America title – saw Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez forced off with a suspected hamstring problem before Paulo Dybala made it 2-0 after 22 minutes
After Messi and Medel were dismissed by Paraguay referee Mario De Vivar, who had consulted a video replay of the incident, Arturo Vidal’s penalty pulled a goal back from Chile on the hour, with the VAR again called into action.
Aguero squandered a couple of late chances to put the result beyond doubt, but Argentina saw out the closing stages to secure third place as their trophy drought goes on.
Messi had made an early impact when his quick ball forwards from a free-kick just inside his own half put Aguero racing clear and the Manchester City striker went around the goalkeeper and opened the scoring in the 13th minute.
Chile were then forced into a change when Sanchez limped off and Junior Fernandes came on.
Argentina doubled their lead in the 22nd minute. Juventus forward Dybala was played into the left side of the Chile penalty area and clipped an angled shot into the far corner.
Dybala sent another volley just wide before tempers boiled over as half-time approached when Medel and Messi squared up after chasing a ball going out on the touchline.
Argentina remained a threat on the counter at the start of the second half, but Chile were given a way back into the match.
Play was called back as the referee looked at a potential foul by Argentina’s Giovani Lo Celso on Charles Aranguiz on the edge of the penalty area and eventually pointed to the spot.
Despite the delay, Barcelona midfielder Vidal remained calm, drilling the penalty straight down the middle as Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani dived away.
Fernandes and fellow substitute Diego Vargas both tested Armani before Argentina slowly regained control, with Aguero having a couple of late chances to score again.
In stoppage time, the Chile bench were all up claiming for handball, but this time there was no extensive VAR review as the appeals were swiftly waved away.
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