By MAURICIO SAVARESE
The Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO — Can a team that was trashed by the favorites in a major soccer tournament win a final against the same opponent only two weeks later?
The answer will be known today after Copa America host Brazil takes on underdogs Peru in an unexpected final at Rio de Janeiro’s historic Maracana Stadium in front of 70,000 fans.
Brazil is chasing its ninth Copa title and first since 2007. Peru won in 1939 and 1975.
Brazil has won all four Copa America editions it hosted, the last in 1989 when Romario scored the winner against Uruguay at the same Maracana.
Only two weeks ago the Brazilians crushed their neighbors 5-0 at Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, with goals by Casemiro, Roberto Firmino, Everton, Dani Alves and Willian. It could have been six for the hosts if Gabriel Jesus had not missed a penalty near the end. That result nearly eliminated the Peruvians from the tournament.
But the final will be a totally different affair, players from both teams insist.
“Each match has a different story,” said Brazilian striker Everton, the team’s sharpest dribbler at Copa America and scorer of two goals.
He is playing in the injured Neymar’s position, and will have either Filipe Luis, who is returning from injury, or Alex Sandro, to help him on the left flank.
Veteran Peru striker Paolo Guerrero, the team’s most recognizable player, agrees the title is up for grabs.
“There are no favorites in a final. Both teams are there because they deserved it,” Guerrero said, despite admitting he will miss injured midfielder Jefferson Farfan in the final.
Midfielder Edison Flores, who has scored two goals in Copa America, is also a doubt.
Brazil enjoyed three clear victories against Bolivia (3-0), Peru (5-0) and Argentina (2-0). But many fans focus on the two goalless draws against Venezuela and Paraguay to put more pressure on coach Tite for his conservative choices. Players came out in his defense on Friday after a news report emerged saying he could choose to leave regardless of the result in the final.
Peru only advanced to the knockout stage as one of the top two teams finishing the group stage in third position. It drew against unimpressive Venezuela 0-0 and beat weak Bolivia 3-1 to move to the quarterfinals. But after the heavy defeat to Brazil, Peru picked itself up in style, eliminating favorites Uruguay on penalties and crushing defending champions and archrivals Chile 3-0 in the semifinals.
Brazil fans tend to have little expectation about South American cup finals, even when they are hosting, but see the tournament as an interesting measurement of the team’s chances in the next World Cup. Losing could mean a bumpy road ahead, since members of Tite’s coaching staff either left or are about to leave, and many veteran players are unlikely to play in Qatar in 2022.
For Peruvian fans the anticipation is evident, seeking their first trophy in 44 years despite Brazil’s favorite tag. More than 30,000 of them are likely to be in Rio for the match.
Peru fans are looking everywhere for inspiration, including two matches as far back as the 1954 World Cup. Hungary had some of the best players in the world at the time. The West Germans were only underdogs when the tournament began. In the first clash between the two teams at the group stage, the Hungarians beat a reserve-filled West Germany 8-3. But two weeks later, the Germans beat the favorites 3-2 to win their first title.
Cafu, a 1994 and 2002 World Cup winner with Brazil, said Friday that Brazil was favorite to win but added a caution.
“It is the obvious favorite, but that doesn’t mean it has already won the match,” he said.
The match will be Brazil’s first at the Maracan” in six years.