Brazil ease the pressure of a Copa on home soil with comfortable win over Peru
Those feared boos from the Sao Paulo crowd never came; there is little space for criticism when the home side establishes a 3-0 lead soon after the half-hour mark. Brazil's 5-0 win over Peru turned into a procession, a victory by the biggest margin seen so far in the 2019 Copa America.
When Brazil are at home to outgunned opposition, the game usually takes one of two patterns. Their previous Copa matches took one route: there is no early breakthrough and pressure builds on the home strikers. Alternatively, Brazil quickly take the lead, feel a surge of confidence and the pressure builds on the opposing defence. The latter was the story of the match against Peru.
Paradoxically, Brazil made a more tentative start in this match than they had in the previous two, but before they had done anything exceptional, they found themselves two goals ahead.
The first came from a weapon that has looked dangerous for them throughout this competition: a corner kick to the near post, flicked on by Thiago Silva. The centre-back's glance can serve either as an attempt on goal or as an assist. This time it was the latter, with Casemiro forcing home at the far post. And the second was an absurd error from the visiting keeper. Under no pressure, Pedro Gallese had his kick charged down by Roberto Firmino, who collected the ball as it came back from the post and scored with a cool finish.
At this point the game was effectively over as a contest. It had become a case of "How many?" This allowed Brazil to revel in the absence of pressure, enjoy their afternoon in front of an adoring crowd and show off their considerable virtues.
The idea of the team was clearly in evidence: quick exchanges down the flanks, with the full-backs coming inside, helping Brazil enjoy numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch and setting up play like creative midfielders. Peru's 4-2-3-1 formation was there for the taking. Brazil kept getting into the spaces outside the midfield shield of Renato Tapia and Yoshimar Yotun, who were attempting to protect the back four. This in large part is the story of the third goal, scored by left-winger Everton.
Bright and effective off the bench in both the previous games, Everton was fully worth his promotion to the starting lineup. He puts doubt in the mind of the defenders. They have seen him run elusively outside on his left foot, and are anxious to stop him. But he is right-footed, and his calling card is to cut inside and unleash a shot. It brought him a memorable goal against Bolivia, hit into the far corner. And it brought him another on Saturday, this one buried at the near post. Again, keeper Gallese was at fault.
But there was little he could do about the fourth goal, tucked away by Dani Alves after cutting inside and playing quick exchanges with both Arthur and Firmino. And the fifth was another triumph for coach Tite, already full of credit for promoting Everton. When Neymar pulled out injured, Chelsea's Willian was a much criticised replacement. But he came off the bench to score a memorable goal, crashing his effort into the far corner following a clever short-corner routine.
For Peru, this was an afternoon to forget. Coach Ricardo Gareca threw in the towel early in the second half when Brazil scored their fourth. Captain Paolo Guerrero was replaced, being a yellow card away from missing the quarterfinal through suspension. By this stage, Gareca was overwhelmingly concerned with keeping the score down. Peru finished third in the group, and must wait on other results to see if they reach the last eight.
Their chances are good. In the history of the 12-team Copa, no side with four points has failed to make the cut. Gareca, then, will be dwelling on how to patch up his side for a quarterfinal. A more cautious lineup is likely; his side will certainly have to defend better down the flanks.
The quarterfinal will also be a totally different game for Brazil. Psychologically, Saturday's win has nothing in common with their next contest. Brazil took the field against Peru with their quarterfinal place all but mathematically guaranteed, but in a knockout game, the possibility of elimination looms large. An inability to cope with the transition from group phase to the extra pressures of knockout football helped derail Brazil's World Cup campaign on home soil in 2014.
And, just as in last year's World Cup quarterfinal, holding midfielder Casemiro is suspended. Brazil have never lost with Casemiro on the field. But he has picked up too many cards, and Fernandinho -- his natural replacement -- is not fit. Struggling with a knee problem, the Manchester City anchorman was not on the bench against Peru.
The other problem is that Gabriel Jesus still awaits his first goal in this tournament. After drawing a blank in last year's World Cup, he seemed set to open his account when he won a stoppage-time penalty. This time, though, Gallese made a fine save, and Jesus was distraught as he left the field.
These, though, are problems that Tite would have accepted at the start of the day. The positives outweigh the negatives. Brazil's attack is up and running, and the defence so far has not looked like conceding. Brazil now go to Porto Alegre, Tite's home region, with the cheers of the Sao Paulo crowd ringing merrily in their ears.