Thursday, 14 July 2011

Brazil Beat Ecuador to Reach Last Eight of Copa América

Punctuality never was the strong suit of South American culture. After 225 turgid minutes, Brazil finally arrived at the Copa América, turning in a much-improved second half display to pick up a 4-2 win against Ecuador. The result ensured the seleção's place in the last eight of the competition, and should serve to reduce the pressure on coach Mano Menezes.

Brazil 4-2 Ecuador
Following his side's disappointing opening performances, Mano Menezes reshuffled his pack for the final group game; Robinho was restored to the attack at the expense of Jádson, and Maicon got the nod at fullback in the wake of Daniel Alves' horror show against Paraguay. Fred, who rescued the seleção with a late strike against La Albirroja, had to content himself with a place on the bench. In midfield, Ramires again started slightly to the right of Lucas Leiva.

Mighty duck; Pato celebrates his opener.

Brazil, as so often in recent months, started brightly; Maicon powered down the right to excellent effect, whilst Neymar, Pato, and Robinho sought to confound the Ecuadorian defence with frequently position-switching. It would take a discrete moment of brilliance, however, to break the deadlock; André Santos swung in a stunning cross from the left, giving Alexandre Pato the simplest of headers. The goal provided vindication for all of those (SKP included) who have voiced substantial admiration for the Fenerbahçe leftback over the past few years.

The strike, however, did not signal the start of any kind of fluency on Brazil's part. Ramires continued to frustrate with his inconsistent (read; terrible) passing, whilst Paulo Henrique Ganso again struggled to stamp his authority on proceedings. It would be one of the seleção's most experienced campaigners, though, who really let the side down. With the interval approaching, Júlio César allowed Felipe Caicedo's tame shot to slip under his body, gifting Ecuador an equaliser. Frangaço!

Whatever Menezes said to his charges during the half time break seemed to work; the seleção were almost unrecognisable in the second period. Ganso and Neymar suddenly burst into life, combining brilliantly for Brazil's second; the latter slammed home after Ecuador failed to cut out a perceptive through-ball from his Santos teammate. La Tri briefly rallied, levelling the match once more through Caicedo, but their opponents were in the ascendency. An exhilarating Neymar run culminated in a shot that Marcelo Elizaga could only parry, allowing Pato to nip in for his second of the evening.

Hair-raising; Neymar salutes a higher power after netting Brazil's fourth.

With their lead restored, and with Ecuador looking increasingly disheveled, Brazil finally fell into a rhythm. Paulo Henrique Ganso demonstrated the vision and passing range that have made him one of the world's most promising young players, and Neymar began to entertain the Córdoba crowd with his repertoire of flicks and turns. Another goal seemed inevitable, and so it proved; Maicon marauded down the wing once more, and squared for Neymar to clip home. With a two-goal cushion established, Menezes had the luxury of resting Ganso, Pato, and Neymar for the last few minutes. He'll need them to be fresh and firing once more on Sunday, when Brazil meet Paraguay in the quarter final.

(Photo credits; (1) Leo la Valle, (2) Sebastián Salguero.)

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