Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho produces stunning display for Brazil

Sport360 staff 10:29 15/06/2019
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Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho

A brace from Philippe Coutinho handed hosts Brazil a winning start to the Copa America on Friday in a 3-0 victory over Bolivia as the absence of superstar Neymar was quickly forgotten.

Barcelona’s Coutinho scored from the penalty spot early in the second half and added a close-range header three minutes later.

Substitute Everton netted a sensational third five minutes from time to clinch a Group A victory for coach Tite’s tournament favorites in Sao Paulo.

The build-up to the competition had been dominated by Neymar’s woes, firstly when he was accused of rape by a Brazilian model, and then when he damaged ankle ligaments in a friendly last week, forcing him out of the Copa.

If Brazil’s first half performance was anything to go by, the Paris Saint-Germain star was sorely missed, but Coutinho’s brace at least silenced the jeers that met the team at half-time.

“Whistles are part of the game, the fans want us to win and play well, so that’s why they jeer,” said the match-winner, whose goals papered over the cracks of an at times disjointed performance.

“We always want their support but we’re focused on the objective, which is the match,” Coutinho told Brazil’s SportTV.

“Whistles or cheers, the important thing is to stay focused and get the win.”

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Brazil made a bright start and predictably dominated the early possession and chances. But surprisingly their greatest threat came from set-pieces with Coutinho’s corner delivery causing panic in the Bolivian backline.

Bolivia’s goalkeeper Carlos Lampe made an instinctive block from a Roberto Firmino flick that came straight at him.

And a few minutes later, towering center-half Thiago Silva was left unmarked eight yards out to meet another Coutinho delivery, but he inexplicably headed well wide.

The pitch at the Morumbi stadium wasn’t helping flowing football, with Bolivia in particular struggling to string passes together.

“We’ve got to be honest, Brazil beat us and beat us well,” said Bolivia coach Eduardo Villegas.

Brazil, wearing white shirts and blue shorts, weaved almost geometric patterns around their unambitious visitors but struggled to test Lampe.

Their best chances came from Bolivian mistakes and Richarlison should have scored into an open goal when a woeful Lampe clearance went straight to him, but the Everton forward failed to lift the ball over defender Adrian Jusino, who headed clear from the edge of the 18-yard box.

Barrage of jeers

With 10 men behind the ball, Bolivia were proving hard to break down but Casemiro went close with what appeared to be a shanked cross that drifted just beyond Lampe’s far post with the goalkeeper scrambling to cover it.

Tite’s team were treated to a barrage of jeers from the 67,000 crowd when the half-time whistle went.

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Bolivia’s best moment had perhaps been a cheeky nutmeg of Casemiro by Raul Castro on the edge of his own 18-yard box. It had been slim pickings.

Fans’ spirits were quickly lifted after the restart, though, as Coutinho fired home from the spot on 50 minutes after a contentious penalty award.

Richarlison’s attempted cross struck Jusino’s arm, which was by his side and only slightly away from his body, but after consulting the video assistant referee, Argentine handler Nestor Pitana pointed to the spot.

Bolivia were stunned and just three minutes later their defence went missing as Firmino reached the bye line and chipped the ball to the back post for Coutinho to head home from barely two yards out.

Reluctant to push men forward, Bolivia never looked like getting back into the match.

“If you want to qualify (for the knock-out stages) you have to attack a little more,” admitted Villegas.

And Coutinho’s corners continued to present Brazil with their best chances, as Marquinhos headed straight at Lampe from seven yards with 15 minutes left.

The game had slowed to almost walking pace when substitute Everton scored a sensational third, cutting in from the left wing before firing an unstoppable shot into the far corner with Lampe rooted to the spot.

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Watch Brazil and Barcelona midfielder Arthur prove fitness before Copa America kick-off

David Cooper - Writer 15:38 13/06/2019
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Barcelona and Brazil midfielder Arthur looks to have recovered in time to play the 2019 Copa America’s opener against Bolivia on Friday.

Melo suffered an injured knee in a friendly game against Honduras last Sunday, but after the first medical test, the results confirmed it was nothing serious.

Arthur is expected to feature in Brazil’s starting eleven against Bolivia at Estadio Morumbi on Friday.

See him put through his paces in this video:










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Copa America provides blueprint for redemption of Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho

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Summer 2017 was meant to be the defining period in Philippe Coutinho’s career.

It should now, however, pale into insignificance when compared to events that could unfold in the coming weeks.

Back then, Barcelona’s ravenous pursuit and Liverpool’s steadfast refusal to countenance a gargantuan sale spoke volumes about his rising worth.

The course of history has not subsequently followed expectation.

January 2018’s club-record – and belated – £142 million capture has proven immoderate, with the La Liga winners now, reportedly, scrambling to cut losses after 21 goals in 75, often-tortured, performances. Some decline from his Merseyside high-water mark.

Enter the challenge of carrying hopes for the 2019 Copa America’s expectant host nation, beginning in the early hours of Saturday morning UAE time against Bolivia.

A stern task. Yet, one that offers redemption – and an escape route from purgatory at Camp Nou.

If his Barca stint cannot be recuperated, the tournament will provide a blueprint for how any future employer can rekindle a once-searing talent whose flame has dwindled. Light it up and reticence will transform into desire across Europe’s boardrooms.

“I didn’t have a great season,” Coutinho told reporters in his homeland of Brazil this week.

“It was below what I expect from myself and what the supporters expect from me. But you can only gain confidence through working hard, which is what I have done and what I will continue to do.”

No obvious suitor has emerged to halt the 26-year-old’s torment. Solace, however, is presented by the vibrant yellow of the fabled Canarinho shirt.

Bile flowed forth with a controversial – and telling, despite Coutinho’s protestations to the contrary – celebration in which he put his fingers in his ears and gestured towards the crowd after March’s thunderbolt against Manchester United at Camp Nou.

In contrast, he was enveloped in comforting arms during Sunday’s final tune-up against 10-man Honduras when his penalty highlighted a bravura display in a 7-0 rout.

Adventure on the ball was welcomed by team-mates and not chastised by fans. Groans and opprobrium increasingly met mislaid through balls when clad in Blaugrana (blue and deep red of Barca’s kit).

This marks a death spiral for any playmaker. Conviction to risk a mistake on the ball in the hope of a glorious pass is the fuel that sparks their genius.

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Preparação 🇧🇷🙌🏽

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Rattling both posts in the first half against Honduras did not break Coutinho’s brittle belief. His renewed effervescence was exemplified by a steal of possession from a dawdling centre-back and subsequent shot, which flashed narrowly wide.

The ex-Vasco Da Gama and Inter Milan starlet was back at the heart of things; flanked by David Neres and Richarlison, supported by Casemiro and Arthur.

All of them united in looking towards him for inspiration.

Meanwhile, Coutinho began more than a third (13) of Barca’s 2018/19 La Liga matches on the substitutes’ bench. He started neither leg against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

Symbolically, he was hooked after an hour at Anfield in the semi-finals with his ascendant former employers on their way to one of the Champions League’s great comebacks.

His effervescent style has jarred with measured principles ingrained at Barca. Predictions about an uncomfortable fit as replacement for Andres Iniesta have proved correct.

Subservience to Lionel Messi at Barca has further curtailed him.

Lessons from the past were ignored by their scouting department. Possible suitors Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United must review what role they can offer him.

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Coutinho cut a forlorn figure when constrained by successive head coaches at Inter, where he was intermittently present from 2010-13.

Mauricio Pochettino’s care when on loan at Espanyol in 2011/12 revitalised him. He then bloomed under Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.

A symbiotic relationship with firm friend Neymar at international level is broken by the PSG superstar’s injury.

But a system engineered by boss Tite that grants Coutinho the freedom to express himself should produce substantial recompense, plus a first Copa since 2007.

“Coutinho’s had a difficult year at Barcelona,” Brazil and PSG centre-back Thiago Silva told reporters. “It was demanding and they jeered him a lot.

“But here, in this team, he’s our reference point – especially when Neymar isn’t available.

“In the two friendly matches we’ve played, he was the best player on the pitch.

“Not just because of his assists and his goals, but because of his defensive work. He’s happy again.”

Coutinho had the world at his feet two years ago. Now, comes a chance to mount a golden recovery.

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