Before Brazil faced Peru at Gillette Stadium in the final match of the group stage during the 2016 Copa America Centenario, many considered Dunga’s men reaching the quarter-finals a foregone conclusion. And while their failure to reach the knockout rounds was one of the major shocks of the tournament so far, the writing was on the wall.
After the South American powerhouse blew out Haiti 7-1 in their previous match, pundits and fans were raving about their quality and how they’d likely make a deep run in the competition. The glaring reality, following last night’s loss in Foxboro, is that Brazil failed to score in two of their group matches and didn’t play well enough to reach the quarter-final round.
Peru’s surprising victory has been mired in controversy, as Raul Ruidiaz’s handball finish was the difference maker for Ricardo Gareca’s men. Still, it was hard for Brazil’s manager, Dunga, to argue that the Seleção merited anything more from Sunday night’s match. Instead, he pragmatically suggested that the Peruvians waited for their chance and executed it properly. “We knew Peru would go for the counter-attack. We tried to neutralize them. They waited for the correct moment and we were in the wrong position. The goal was scored with the hand but he was there [to score].”
Gareca praised the mentality of his players, and felt the win was well-earned in light of the strategy he employed to defeat who he considers a quality opponent. “In the first half they had more control. Brazil has great mobility, great players. But our team defended very well. Generally speaking, we thought [the match] would go like this. As I see it, the team made a great tactical sacrifice.”
When asked about the handball, the Peruvian manager suggested his side’s play was worthy of a goal, no matter how it came. “Was it a hand or not? I can’t say right now, but I thought that we deserved to move on to the next round. Nobody gave us anything. It is a 90 minute game. It isn’t just about dominating but being able to defend.”
Perhaps the last comment was a slight dig at Dunga’s team, who suffered a brief lapse on defense which allowed Ruidiaz to sneak in behind. To be fair to Peru, he scored when about two yards from goal at the end of a well-worked counter attack, but there was no reason it should have been allowed to stand. This put the focus on a rather dismal performance from the match officials who, beyond allowing several bookable offenses to go unpunished, completely botched the most pivotal call of the game.
Bewildered fans and players alike waited impatiently for a final decision, knowing full well that the ball had been pushed across the line illegally. Yet, at the end of their conference, the referees came to the same conclusion and the goal stood. It begs the questions: What were they conferring about for over three minutes after the goal was handled in? How did they miss something that was so obvious to everyone else in the stadium?
The reaction in the press box was unsurprising, as almost everyone exclaimed, “Handball!” in their preferred language. Still, it was not to be, as Dunga’s Brazil were dumped out of Copa America in rather unceremonious fashion, to the dismay of the 20,000 Brazil fans who had come to show their support.
Gareca wasn’t to let it spoil his evening, however, as he beamed with pride for his team and rejoiced in the confidence this win has given them. “When we play as a team, even when we face this kind of rival, we can win. I want to congratulate my players. Substitutes included. We want to share this win with the people of Peru and those who came to watch us tonight.”
The Peruvian manager will hope his team can take his words to heart, as they will face Colombia on Friday in their quarter-final match. After the win in Foxboro last night, they’ll surely believe that anything is possible.
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