Star forward Neymar on Sunday netted a penalty and created a second as hosts Brazil eased to a 3-0 victory over a depleted Venezuela in the opening match of the Copa America.
Centerback Marquinhos opened the scored midway through the first half and Gabriel Barbosa sealed the Group B win a minute from time.
In a tournament already delayed by one year, and moved from its original hosts Argentina and Colombia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was fitting that the coronavirus should take center stage right up to the tournament kickoff.
Played at an empty Estadio Mane Garrincha in Brasilia due to COVID-19 restrictions, Brazil made light of the continent’s minnows, who arrived with a makeshift side missing eight players who were ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19 the day before.
Venezuela called up 15 emergency replacements, but could still only name seven out of a possible 12 substitutes.
“It’s not just being without key players, we didn’t have time to prepare better for this team,” Venezuela coach Jose Peseiro said.
The game went ahead and, predictably, reigning champions Brazil were well on top.
“The three points are important. We had to start well regardless of our rivals having players out,” Brazil captain Casemiro said.
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 — who thrashed them 6-1 the last time the sides met in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in November last year.
Colombia’s goal was a thing of beauty, with Cardona taking a short free-kick to Juan Cuadrado, who chipped the ball into the penalty area for Miguel Borja to head down into the path of Cardona, who volleyed home.
It was initially disallowed for offside, but a review showed that while three Colombia players were beyond the defensive line, Cardona and Borja were onside.
Ecuador came close to a second-half equalizer through Pervis Estupinan, but Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina brilliantly tipped his free-kick around the post.
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