At last they showed up. Starlets Neymar and Alexandre Pato scored two goals each to make it 4-2 for Brazil against Ecuador in the last match of the first round of Copa America. Unlike archrivals Argentina and Uruguay, the Selecao qualified first place and are now in the easy key to reach its third consecutive title – if they beat Paraguay on Sunday either Venezuela or Chile will be on their way. Hosts Argentina take Uruguay on Saturday. The winner plays Colombia or Peru later on.
After drawing with Venezuela and Paraguay, coach Mano Menezes made two crucial changes: Inter Milan’s Maicon and Milan’s Robinho joined the first team. As the match was decisive, the Brazilians showed more flair than in the beginning of the competition. It took no more than 28 minutes for them to open the scoring, after left-winger Andre Santos crossed and Pato headed home in style. That’s how it would end in the first half, had Julio Cesar not fumbled bizarrely after a strike from Levante’s Felipe Caicedo – his flaws in the World Cup defeat agains Holland still haunt the 5-time-world-champion. Even so, Brazil looked confident on the pitch.
Copa America is coach Menezes’ first test in the run up to the 2014 World Cup. Elimination on the first round might have cost him his job.
Four minutes after the break Brazil were again in the lead. Neymar scored his first in the competition after getting a clean strike from a Paulo Henrique Ganso through ball. No flamboyant skills, just straightforward football. Ecuador, who needed a win to qualify, leveled again in another Caicedo shot that Julio Cesar couldn’t stop. Even so, it was clear the Selecao would prevail. At the 61st minute, Neymar and Ganso exchanged passes and after a mess in the Ecuadorian defense Pato was there again to get in the scoreboard again. Eleven minutes later Maicon destroyed the opposition to give Neymar another one right in front of the keeper.
It would be 5-2 if the linesman hadn’t unfairly disallowed a goal Robinho scored three minutes from the end. Just like Argentina, Brazil played reasonable football only in the last match of the group phase. “Now Copa America really begins”, said Pato. “We were pressured and that was ok. Now the results are more important than anything else and we have a real chance of winning this competition again.” Copa America is coach Menezes’ first test in the run up to the 2014 World Cup. Elimination on the first round might have cost him his job.
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