Cool Coutinho helps lacklustre Brazil forget Neymar woes in debut Copa win
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
It was not pretty, nor particularly convincing at times, but Brazil will take it - and so will Philippe Coutinho. With a little help from the struggling Barcelona star and a welcome hand from VAR, the Copa America hosts overcame the loss of Neymar and sealed a 3-0 victory over Bolivia that on another day could have finished with a result far less favourable to the South American giants.
The Selecao caused the first stir of the Copa America as they walked out decked in white, a nod to their original colours that were all but jettisoned in the wake of the 1950 World Cup 'Maracanazo' at the hands of Uruguay in favour of the now more familiar yellow.
By the time the whistle blew for the end of the first half, though, the overall mood was rather grey. Bolivia have proved tricky opening game opposition for more than a few nations in the Copa and so they proved again, ceding control of the ball and inviting their illustrious rivals to try and break them down.
By and large Tite's men fell short. There were a few interesting incursions into Bolivian territory, mostly inspired by the lively Richarlison, and no end of possession, corners and snatched chances. Overall, though, their approaches on goal were stilted and predictable, giving the Verde plenty of time to regroup and repel.
Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe had little reason to feel threatened over the first 45 minutes and was barely called into action despite the intense home pressure. Brazil were reduced to seeing Fernandinho take speculative efforts from well outside the area, hardly the sign of a well-drilled attacking unit.
The end of the half was greeted by a hail of boos and jeers from a frustrated Morumbi crowd which had spent much of the game in stony silence, furious at the lack of spark and invention shown by the pedestrian Selecao.
It did not take long for those in Sao Paulo to find their voice after the restart. A matter of minutes into the second half Bolivia found themselves cursing VAR when referee Nestor Pitana turned to the technology - present for the first time at a Copa - to investigate a marginal handball. The Argentine pointed to the spot and up stepped Coutinho, giving Lampe no chance with a fine hit to the keeper's right-hand side to give Brazil a lead that looked unlikely to arrive through open play.
That advantage established, the rest of the game was a stroll. Barely 120 seconds had passed before Coutinho found himself celebrating again, nodding home a free header teed up perfectly by former Liverpool team-mate Roberto Firmino, the first time Bolivia had been really exposed by the hosts and favourites.
It was the perfect response from Coutinho, who endured a disappointing term with Barca and was not even certain of a starting spot at the Copa before Neymar's ankle injury and the subsequent tactical reshuffle ended any doubts over his selection.
He would doubtlessly benefit from the presence of another passer in the Brazil midfield, rather than the staid defensive combination of Casemiro and Fernandinho, to aid him in his creative endeavours; but the much-derided playmaker nevertheless stood up when the Selecao needed a hero and sent them through a tricky first Group A match with three points.
Brazil, meanwhile, will hope certain pre-competition nerves have been banished for good following this underwhelming introduction to the Copa. Certainly, they will need to show more against Venezuela and Peru, both more accomplished sides than their rival on Friday. The only real moment of dazzling individual skill came late on, from the boot of late substitute Everton, who let fly with a wonderful long-range shot to put the game out of reach at 3-0.
But the show is on the road for the hosts, who proved that the absence of Neymar is not an insurmountable obstacle. With Coutinho finding his feet, and the proper application of VAR, the Selecao dug themselves out of a hole and can now look forward to hopefully more impressive displays to come.