A tearful Neymar inspired hosts Brazil to become the first side to qualify for the Copa America knock-out stages following a 4-0 win over Peru in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.
Goals from Alex Sandro, Neymar, Everton Ribeiro and Richarlison gave the holders a ninth straight win and a perfect six points from two games in Group B as Peru dropped to the bottom.
There was little between the two sides in the first half but Brazil’s greater quality made the difference after the break as talisman Neymar inspired them to an ultimately comfortable victory.
“It’s emotional for me because many things happened in these last two years that were difficult, complicated,” said Neymar as the tears flowed.
Two years ago he missed Brazil’s Copa triumph on home soil through injury, although before the tournament began he was accused of rape, a case that was dismissed over a lack of evidence.
His 68th goal in 107 games for his country took him to within nine of the record set by Brazil great Pele.
“It’s an honour for me to be part of the Brazilian national team history. To be honest, my dream was always to play for the Selecao, to wear this jersey. I never imagined achieving these numbers.”
It took Brazil 10 minutes to get a shot on goal, and when they did it came from the unlikely boot of defensive midfielder Fred, who fired over.
A minute later the Selecao were in front as Everton’s cross from the left skimmed off a Peru head and landed at the feet of Gabriel Jesus at the back post. The Manchester City forward picked out Alex Sandro arriving unmarked six yards out to fire home.
Fabinho was next to test his sights but fizzed a drive from 25 yards just wide.
It was a cagey affair, with Peru enjoying the greater possession but neither side really threatened again until the stroke of halftime when Alex Sandro shot over from the edge of the box.
Brazil run riot
After the break, Brazil continued to create the better chances as rightback Danilo got forward to lash a half-volley wide from the edge of the area.
Brazil thought they had a penalty on the hour mark when Neymar tumbled in the box under pressure from Renato Tapia, but as the Paris Saint-Germain star waited to take the spot kick, Argentine referee Patricio Loustau went over to check the pitchside monitor and reversed his decision.
Neymar didn’t have to wait long for his chance to score, as Peru turned over possession in midfield on 68 minutes and Fred played the ball into the striker, who turned quickly to fire low past goalkeeper Pedro Gallese from 20 yards.
The hosts started to play with freedom and substitute Richarlison brought a fine save out of Gallese after he was set up by Neymar, who later shot wide.
Peru should have got back into it 12 minutes from time but Luis Abram and Alex Valera both contrived to miss an open goal from inside the six-yard box.
Neymar and substitute Roberto Firmino had chances to wrap up the win but the third goal finally came a minute from time as Richarlison teed up another substitute in Everton Ribeiro to tap home from six yards out.
And Richarlison got the goal his fine cameo deserved in stoppage time.
Venezuela held out under intense pressure in a fractious local derby against Colombia to secure their first point at the Copa America after a 0-0 draw in Goiania.
Goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez made a string of fine saves, particularly in the closing stages, to keep out the Colombians, who saw a late Miguel Borja goal ruled out for offside.
Colombia also finished the game with 10 men after Luis Diaz was sent off deep into injury time.
Colombia finished the game with 23 shots to just two – including none on target – from Venezuela but the “Red Wine” held out for a much needed point.
Venezuela were still severely depleted from a Covid outbreak in their camp that deprived the team of eight players in their 3-0 defeat to hosts Brazil on Sunday.