By Lisa Flueckiger, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s national football (soccer) team qualified for the quarterfinals of the Copa America with a victory over Venezuela with 2-1 in their third group game. The Seleção had to play without their suspended captain Neymar, who will not appeal against his four-game-ban and will leave Chile.
The Brazilian team faced an unusual situation before the game on Sunday (June 21st), as all teams of the group stood equal with three points. But as Colombia and Peru only tied their game with 0-0, the Seleção knew they needed a draw against Venezuela to qualify for the quarterfinals.
The Brazilians started well into the game with Robinho, in his first 2015 Copa America game, and Philippe Coutinho replacing Neymar and Fred, while Roberto Firmino once again received preference over Diego Tardelli.
The Seleção was better organized than in their last game against Colombia and put up pressure against the Venezuelans. While the game wasn’t the most beautiful one, Brazil mostly had possession of the ball and were able to impose their game on the Venezuelans.
The decent performance against largely harmless Venezuelans was crowned with two goals; the first by Thiago Silva after a corner taken by Robinho only eight minutes into the game. The second goal fell six minutes into the second half when Willian dribbled and then found Firmino alone in the box and the Hoffenheim striker kicked it in.
Yet, into the second half it seemed that coach Dunga didn’t quite trust the two goal lead and wanted to strengthen his squad’s defensive behavior. He brought on center back David Luiz for striker Firmino and Tardelli for Coutinho and a little later center/right back Marquinhos for attacker Robinho, totaling in six defenders on the pitch (four of them center backs by training).
Dunga explained his reasoning after the game, saying that he wanted the tall players David Luiz and Marquinhos to cover high crosses. “[I brought them on] to neutralize the only move that Venezuela did all the time; playing a long ball for the header. They had no other move and the amount of fouls near our box worried me a lot.”
However, with so many players on the field used to play the same position, the game became unorganized and more hectic, leading to open spaces for the Venezuelans. Miku used one of these opportunities to score for Venezuela, reducing the overall score of the game to 2-1, giving his team the hope of equaling, which would have led to the qualification of Venezuela on the expense of Colombia.
But Brazil hung through it and managed to keep Venezuela at bay until the final whistle. With the additional three points, Brazil became leader of their group and will now face Paraguay on Saturday, June 27th.
The other quarterfinals will be Chile against Uruguay on Wednesday, June 24th; Bolivia against Peru on Thursday, June 25th and Argentina against Colombia on Friday, June 26th.
For Neymar the Copa America is over. The CBF decided not to appeal against the four game ban the captain had received after his red card after the match against Colombia, where he fought with another player and later waited in the tunnel to insult the referee.