Brazil has kicked off Copa America 2021 with a 3-0 win over COVID-hit Venezuela as the much-opposed tournament kicked off in Brasilia on Sunday.
Marquinhos, Neymar and Gabriel Barbosa scored in the opening game at Mane Garrincha stadium on Sunday, less than a day after several Venezuelan players tested positive for COVID-19.
South American football governing body, CONMEBOL, chose Brazil as host two weeks ago despite its alarming COVID-19 figures, after Argentina and Colombia were dropped as co-hosts.
Despite his opposition to staging the tournament in his home country, Brazil captain Casemiro said the defending champions intended to retain their trophy.
“It could be a friendly, Copa America or World Cup qualifiers, we play it to win,” said Casemiro after his side’s win.
“Venezuela had the idea of defending, they wanted a draw. But we were focused and we were aggressive in the last third of the pitch.”
Venezuela summoned 15 new players at short notice after eight squad members tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, and the disruption showed on the field.
Brazil opened the scoring in the 23rd minute after a corner kick ended with Marquinhos striking from close range.
Brazil coach Tite – who also opposed holding the tournament – took Lucas Paqueta off at halftime, but kept Roberto Firmino on the bench. Instead, Everton Ribeiro went on and provided more dynamism on the right flank.
Ribeiro found Danilo on the right edge of the box, and the Brazilian was pushed to the ground. Neymar calmly scored from the spot in the 63rd to make it 2-0.
Neymar dribbled past Graterol and crossed for Barbosa to chest the ball into the empty net in the 89th to seal the home side’s win.
Elsewhere, Edwin Cardona scored the only goal of the game as Colombia held on under second half pressure to begin their Group B campaign with a 1-0 win over Ecuador.