Despite it being the Mecca of Brazilian football, this was only the host’s third game at the iconic stadium since a 2013 friendly against England and the Confederations Cup final win over Spain in the same year, which tricked Brazil into being fooled about its standing in the international power ranks after overcoming the reigning world and European champions at the time. Still, this Copa America had been viewed as a chance to exorcise some of those demons from their home World Cup and Tite, rumoured to be leaving his post whether Brazil were victorious or not, oversaw his proud nation’s march all the way to the final this time around.
MATCH FACTS: Brazil: Alisson, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Alex Sandro, Arthur, Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho (Militao), Everton (Marques Loureiro), Firmino (Richarlison)
Unused subs: Cassio, Miranda, Filipe Luis, Neres, Willian, Eder Militao, Allan, Fernandinho, Lucas Paqueta, Fagner, Ederson
Bookings: Jesus (sent off), Silva, Richarlison Goals: Everton (16), Jesus (45), Richarlison (90 PEN)
Peru: Gallese, Advincula, Zambrano, Abram, Trauco, Tapia (Gonzales), Yotun (Ruidiaz), Carrillo (Polo), Cueva, Flores, Guerrero
Unused subs: Caceda, Corzo, Santamaria, Araujo, Ballon, Pretell, Callens, Alvarez Bookings: Tapia, Avincula, Zambrano
Goals: Guerrero (44)
Referee: Roberto Tobar (Chile)
Expecting to face one of the other favourites in holders Chile, Colombia, Argentina or Uruguay, it was their Group A foes Peru, who they had trounced 5-0 in Sao Paulo a fortnight ago, that stood in their way of claiming the first piece of major silverware in 12 years. Beating the Chileans 3-0 in the semi-final, the underdogs lead by Ricardo Gareca were much improved and had not conceded a goal ever since the sides’ previous meeting.
Starting well again this evening too, they allowed Brazil to do little in the opening 10 minutes with quality pressing, composure, and defensive stubbornness.
Made a fool of by man of the match and goalscorer Everton at the Arena Corinthians, right back Luis Advincula started a pacey, physically imposing presence as were the rest of his teammates marking Brazil’s skillful wingers and forwards in numbers. On the one occasion in the first quarter of an hour, they yielded a slither of time and space to Gabriel Jesus however, the Manchester City number 9 found the break out star known as the Little Onion at the back post with a brilliant assist to put Brazil ahead and set the Maracana to align.
After the goal, Brazil began settling into the tie with Arthur finding some success in getting the leaders’ passing game moving. At the end of a swift exchange down the left flank, Bobby Firmino found his former Liverpool colleague Philippe Coutinho at the near post who almost converted past Pedro Gallese. On a subsequent, dangerous move also instigated by the Barcelona midfielder around the half hour mark, Jesus was booked during a clash on the edge of the box.
Long balls started to be effective too though, as seen when Alex Sandro found Firmino with one close to the half time that the recent Champions League winner headed just over the bar.
And then came the potential game changer on 40 minutes. When Peru managed to thread the ball into the box, the referee gave a penalty for Thiago Silva’s handball on the ground. As Paolo Guerrero, an ex-Corinthians and Flamengo man well known to Brazilian football lovers booed from the offset, waited at the spot, Tobar Vargas consulted VAR and was finally cheered by the home supports for a moment before sticking to his decision anyway.
Guerrero slipping the ball past Alisson, breaking a run of nine clean sheets for the Liverpool shotstopper, he headed off to the corner flag with his machine gun celebration that fired off a creepy air of uncertainty and nerves that swept across the Maracana.
Cries of ‘É Campeão!!!’ rang around the Maracana and they knew it was close as Napoli enforcer Allan was brought on for reinforcements. Just a minute of extra time added, Vargas blew his whistle for the last time as Brazil were again kings of the continent for the first time since 2007 and for the ninth time in their proud history.