By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Led by two late game goals from Gabriel Jesus, the Brazilian men’s national football (soccer) club (Seleção) pulled out a hard-fought 3-1 victory against the Czech Republic in Prague yesterday (March 26th) in the club’s final friendly before hosting the 2019 Copa América.
The Seleção faced concerns heading into yesterday’s match after the five-time World Cup champions could only manage a 1-1 draw against Panama, the 76th ranked team in the world, in Porto last Saturday, March 23rd.
The team’s struggles appeared to continue into the first half of last night’s match. Brazil could only muster one lone shot on goal in the first-half, a free kick from Casemiro, which was easily deflected by Czech keeper Jiri Pavlenka.
At the 37th minute, the Czechs drew first blood when midfielder David Pavelka snuck behind Brazil’s porous defense and slammed the ball in past Alisson for the 1-0 lead.
The Seleção finally got on the board four minutes into the second period when Roberto Firmino charged up the field to disrupt the Czech attack. Firmino stole the ball and easily poked home the close-range shot to even the match.
The turning point of the game came at the 83rd minute. Gabriel Jesus sprinted up the right sideline to receive a perfect cross from David Neres. Jesus promptly deposited the ball into the back of the net to give Brazil the 2-1 lead.
Moments later, at the 90-minute mark, Jesus struck again. The Manchester City striker had his shot blocked but immediately scored off the ensuing rebound for his second goal to seal the 3-1 victory.
“We had a bad first half…the team missed a lot of passes, did not play well,” admitted Brazil manager Tite after the match. “But, in the second half, with the changes we made, the team grew and created more opportunities. It was a great second half.”
The Seleção will now turn their attention to the 2019 Copa América and the club’s opening match against Bolívia on Friday, June 14th, in Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
Brazil hosts the upcoming Copa América, a men’s quadrennial football championship tournament organized by CONMEBOL (the South American Football Confederation).
The tournament includes all ten CONMEBOL national teams along with two guest teams. The two guest teams in the 2019 Copa América are Japan and Qatar.