By ZAID MOHAMMED
FOOTBALL powerhouse Brazil, playing without their star striker Neymar, regained their status as the best team in South America with a predictable 3-1 victory over Peru on Sunday at the historic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Goals by Everton, Gabriel de Jesus, and a penalty by Richarlson at the end ensured the home team’s grip on the prestigious Copa America Trophy before thousands of jubilant fans including Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.
Earlier Jesus was red-carded but not before he scored a go-ahead goal, after Peru captain Paolo Guerrero cancelled out Everton’s opening item.
However the ten-man Brazilian squad held on for their ninth regional tournament win, their first in 12 years.
Jesus, who plays for English Premier League champions Manchester City, was sent off 20 minutes from time for a second booking and was in tears as he left the field, gesticulating, kicking a water bottle in frustration and almost stumbling into the trophy on display on the sideline.
The final got underway after a minute’s silence was held for Brazilian Bossa Nova music legend Joao Gilberto who died on June 6. He made famous the classic standard Girl from Ipanema.
On Sunday, underdogs Peru started confidently and didn’t appear overawed by either their opponents or the occasion, but it quickly became apparent that they were punching above their weight.
It was also clear that their intention, as Peru coach Ricardo Gareca had indicated, was to prevent their opponents from dominating possession. However, this strategy proved difficult to implement against their more talented opponents.
The Brazilians dominated from early and the opening item came from Jesus, whose drag-back tricked two defenders, creating space for him to cross for the unmarked Everton to drill the ball home at the back post on the quarter hour.
The goal gave Brazil confidence and they started moving the ball around more freely as Liverpool player Roberto Firmino kept Peru’s defence busy, and left-winger Everton posed a regular threat on the wing.
But against the run of play, Peru was rewarded with a penalty when a Christian Cueva cross hit the arm of a sliding Thiago Silva which was confirmed after a Video Assistant Referee review.
Peru captain Guerrero sent Brazil goalkeeper Alisson the wrong way from 12 yards and Peru were back in the game just before half-time.
Then following a defensive lapse Arthur was allowed to push into the Peruvian half of the pitch who crossed to Jesus in the middle of the area and the Manchester City striker made no mistake knocking the ball into the bottom corner to put Brazil ahead for the first time.
The second half was more evenly contested and some drama ensued when Jesus was given his marching orders but it did not look likely that Peru would score an equalizer and force extra-time.
Near the end Peru’s Zambrano was adjudged to have crudely fouled Everton in the penalty area and substitute Richarlison made the decision final in Brazil’s favor with his expertly taken spot-kick into the bottom corner of the net.