Ralph Hannah –
Brazil v Bolivia – And so it begins in Brazil, the world’s oldest international football competition the Copa América kicked off with a routine 3-0 victory for the home side in the Estadio Morumbi in Sao Paulo. It was their 100thtriumph in the tournament.
Brazil v Bolivia Goals: 1-0 (Coutinho, 50’ Pen.), 2-0 (Coutinho, 53’), 3-0 (Everton, 86′)
The hosts are favourites to win their ninth title and first since Robinho dominated the tournament in 2007 in Venezuela. In fact Brazil has never lost a Copa América at home, winning the championship in 1919, 1922, 1949 and 1989.
Neymar had dominated the headlines pre-tournament, first being stripped of the captaincy, then being accused of rape in Paris and finally withdrawing from the competition with an injury sustained in a warm-up against Qatar. But all the talk on the eve of the game was related to fashion and Brazil’s choice of white as their away kit, this was the first time the Seleçao had worn white in a competitive game in 65 years. It is forever associated with the Maracanazo in 1950, but there was not much chance that the lowest-ranked side in this year’s edition Bolivia could cause an upset.
If you think Brazil had issues with Neymar, then let me introduce you to some of Bolivia’s woes, just one win in their last 16 (vs Myanmar) and just two goals in their last six before tonight’s opener. The FBF has been in crisis since FIFA-gate when then-President Carlos Chávez Landívar was arrested in 2015 for “alleged corruption in the management of resources” he had also served as CONMEBOL treasurer. At one point the FBF had their accounts frozen so then captain, Ronald Raldes, had to stump up US$21,000 to take the squad to the US to play a friendly against Argentina. Unsurprisingly they lost 7-0.
Since then the federation has had five presidents with one, Marco Antonio Peredo Mercado, having to leave the post after being put under house arrest by authorities. In the local league, where 20 of the 23 members of La Verde’s squad play, there have been constant accusations of match-fixing in the last couple of years. Just last month the owner of Bolívar, Marcelo Claure, pleaded with Evo Morales to investigate institutional corruption among the refereeing body. From his Twitter account, he suggested current FBF President Salinas and Executive Director Freddy Tellez had manipulated the designation of referees.
There was some early hope for Bolivia that they could emulate their last four Copa América openers against the host side and remain unbeaten. They drew against Paraguay (1999), Peru (2004), Venezuela (2007) and mostly recently Argentina (2011) where they led until Sergio Aguero’s 75thminute equaliser. It was 0-0 at halftime as the teams trudged off the Morumbi pitch to a chorus of boos – the Brazilian side had created little yet squandered some gilt-edged chances the result of either set-pieces or opposition error. Meanwhile, the visitors were more than happy to sit back, in fact, they didn’t have a single touch in the home team’s penalty area during the opening forty-five minutes. The highlight of the first half may well have been Néstor Pitana using VAR for the first time in Copa América history, although just like the first half that was an anti-climax, the possible red card offence was only worthy of a yellow card.
VAR did become the central talking point of the second half, it was employed correctly give a penalty to Brazil in the 49thminute after Richarlison’s cross had been handled. Philippe Coutinho dispatched the spot kick to score his 15thinternational goal, showing no signs of the pressure that Tite’s team were surely under. Moments later and Coutinho had doubled Brazil’s lead; he rounded off a good move by heading in Firmino’s cross. After that flurry of excitement, the contest was over, and both sides knew it.
Gabriel Jesús replaced Firmino on 65-minute sand immediately offered a more direct approach trying to inject some life into the occasion, which after all was meant to be a celebration of the start of the 46thedition of the tournament. But the game dwindled into a procession, not helped by the lacklustre atmosphere in the stadium with a capacity crowd (affected by a General Strike across the country). When substitute Everton burst down the flank and cut-in cleverly to make it 3-0 on 84 minutes it briefly lifted spirits, but the final whistle was a relief for everybody involved; Tite and Brazil had got a comfortable win, Bolivia had lost but avoided a hiding and us neutrals didn’t have to watch anymore.
As D:Ream (and later Tony Blair) told us “Things can only get better” – let’s hope that applies here.
Brazil v Bolivia – Line-ups
Alisson – Filipe Luis, Thiago, Marquinhos, Dani Alves – Casemiro, Fernandinho – David Neres, Coutinho, Richarlison – Roberto Firmino
Lampe – M. Bejarano, Jusino, Haquin, D. Bejarano – Chumacero, Saucedo, Justiniano, Saavedra – Castro – Marcelo Moreno
Manager: Eduardo Villegas
Ralph Hannah is Londoner, who has lived in Luque and is now located in Miami, with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveler throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his 2 daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.