With Neymar watching from afar, it was Philippe Coutinho who came through for Brazil in the Copa America opener.
With two quick goals after the team was jeered by the local crowd at halftime, Coutinho helped Brazil overcome the absence of the injured Neymar in Brazil’s 3-0 win over Bolivia on Friday.
Coutinho converted a penalty kick awarded by video review in the 50th minute and headed in a cross by Roberto Firmino in the 53rd, helping the hosts overcome a lackluster first half that prompted the loud jeers at the Morumbi Stadium.
“Sometimes it’s normal for the fans to jeer, they want us to play well and win,” Coutinho said. “It was a difficult match, like it always is in the opener. It was important to get this first win.”
Substitute Everton also scored in the second half to help appease the fans at the Morumbi, keeping Brazil on track for its first South American title since 2007.
Brazil’s debut came with Neymar still attracting most of the attention even though he is not playing in the tournament because of an ankle injury. Neymar on Thursday appeared at a police station amid a media frenzy to answer questions about a rape allegation from a Brazilian woman who visited him in Paris.
Neymar, who has denied wrongdoing, posted a photo on Twitter of himself watching the match from bed while treating his right ankle, along with a message showing support to his former teammates.
Brazil felt Neymar’s absence in the first half, with its attack unable to do much against the Bolivian defense. Young Ajax forward David Neres, replacing Neymar in the starting lineup, couldn’t add the spark Brazil needed up front. Firmino and Richarlison also couldn’t get anything going early on, leading to the halftime jeers by most in the crowd of 46,342 at the Morumbi.
It didn’t take long for Brazil to get the crowd back on board in the second half, with Coutinho opened the scoring from the penalty spot after video review determined a handball by Bolivia defender Adrian Jusino.
The midfielder quickly added the second minutes later with a close-range header after Firmino’s well-placed cross.
Everton, who replaced Neres, sored the third goal with a right-footed shot from outside the area after clearing a couple of defenders.
“We started well but as the time passed and we didn’t score the team got a bit too anxious,” Brazil coach Tite said. “In the second half, we were able to impose our game.”
Brazil next faces Venezuela in Group A, while Bolivia hosts Peru. Venezuela and Peru play their opener on Saturday in Porto Alegre.
An eight-time Copa America champion, Brazil has won the tournament all four previous times it hosted the event, the last time in 1989.
Brazil was wearing a white jersey in honor of the 100th anniversary of the team’s first South American title in 1919.
Bolivia won its lone Copa America title in 1963 at home. It didn’t get past the group stage in 2016, but made it to the quarterfinals in the 2015 tournament. Among those at the Morumbi on Friday was Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro.
Brazilian fans chant homophobic slur
Brazilian fans have sung homophobic chants during Copa America’s opening match at the Morumbi stadium. Bolivian goalkeeper Carlos Lampe heard the slurs several times Friday, chanted by thousands of Brazil fans behind his goal in Brazil’s 3-0 victory.
Homophobic chants were overlooked in South America until recently. They usually take place when the visiting goalkeeper runs to take a goal kick.
Brazilian stadia started seeing a wave of homophobic chants after the 2014 World Cup the South American country hosted.
Governing body FIFA has repeatedly fined the Brazilian soccer confederation for homophobic chants.
On Thursday, Brazil’s top court ruled homophobia is a crime akin to racism. Perpetrators of prejudice against homosexuals will be jailed between one and three years.
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