Brazil move on without Neymar
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – Playing without suspended star Neymar, Brazil defeated Venezuela 2-1 Sunday in their final group game to reach the Copa America football quarter-finals.
Thiago Silva scored with a volley in the ninth minute off a perfect delivery from a corner by Robinho – Neymar’s replacement. Roberto Firmino added the second in the 52nd, chipping in a cross from Willian.
The loss in Group C eliminated Venezuela, which got an 84th-minute goal from Miku.
The final match in qualifying set up the quarter-final pairings with Chile versus Uruguay on Wednesday, Bolivia vs Peru on Thursday, Argentina vs Colombia on Friday and Saturday’s match pitting Brazil against Paraguay.
Barcelona’s Neymar was banned for four games after a 1-0 loss to Colombia on Wednesday. Angry with the defeat, Neymar kicked a ball at a Colombia player, and also appeared to head-butt another player.
CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football, said the referee’s report also showed he insulted the referee after the match and grabbed him by the arms.
Asked about Neymar’s absence, Brazil coach Dunga replied: “Any team would miss Neymar, but when you don’t have him, you can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
Brazil seemed to play better without Neymar, at least early in the first half. Robinho and Philipe Coutinho, who replaced midfielder Fred, gave Brazil more attacking.
After scoring, Silva raced to the sideline and waved to Neymar, who was sitting in the stands – wrapped up under a blue winter cap – and jeered by Venezuela fans on a chilly night in the South American winter.
Dunga called the quarter-final with Paraguay a “very tricky match” and likened it to “a final”.
“We have to respect everyone, but we can fear nobody.”
Brazil had a couple chances just after Silva’s goal with Robinho and Felipe Luis looking dangerous. But the attack stalled through most of the first half.
Willian was stopped by Venezuela keeper Alain Baroja on a point-blank shot in the 39th.
Venezuela had their best chance in the 44th when Gabriel Cichero looped a shot from the left which went just wide of the far post.
Brazil started the second half quickly. Coutinho had a chance in the first minute with Firmino’s goal minutes later sealing the outcome.
Venezuela made it close in the 84th. Brazil keeper Jefferson dived to meet Juan Arango’s free kick, tipping it off the post with Miku heading it home.
“We have the feeling we could have given a bit more,” Venezuela coach Noel Sanvicente said. “But worrying about it now doesn’t matter.”
Five-time World Cup champions Brazil are hoping to recover their reputation in this tournament, still stinging from a humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in last year’s World Cup semi-finals at home.
They have looked ordinary in three group matches in Chile, a shadow of Brazilian teams that were once feared.
Brazil still remain co-favourite with Argentina, with Chile, Colombia and defending champion Uruguay are also viewed as contenders.