Brazil won the opening game of the 2021 Copa América as the Covid-19-affected tournament got underway on Sunday.
Brazil superstar Neymar scored once and assisted another to help his side to a 3-0 victory over Venezuela in Brasilia, with his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Marquinhos and Gabriel Barbosa grabbing the other goals.
The Venezuela team and coaching staff have been decimated by Covid-19 positive cases on the eve on the tournament, with 12 of their players and coaching staff returning positive tests just a day before the opening game of the tournament.
And the hosts of the tournament showed their dominance from the get-go. Everton forward Richarlison had a first-half goal disallowed for offside and Neymar missed a good chance as Brazil failed to convert its dominance.
But Marquinhos’ bundled 23rd minute goal from a corner set it on its way, with Neymar scoring his 67th international goal – just 10 behind Pele’s record tally of 77 goals for Brazil – from the penalty spot.
He was also pivotal in the final goal, rounding Venezuela goalkeeper Joel Graterol before squaring to substitute Barbosa to complete the victory.
It gave the nine-time Copa América winners the perfect start to Group A, which also includes Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Colombia won its opening game on Sunday night, beating Ecuador 1-0 thanks to a Edwin Cardona strike.
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The 47th edition of the Copa América was originally to be joint-hosted by Argentina and Colombia, but organizers decided to pull it first from Colombia, due to the country’s widespread social unrest, and then also from Argentina, due to a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro came to the rescue though and boasted the country would see the tournament through, despite widespread opposition and the country’s struggle to contain the pandemic.
Just two days before the start of the tournament, the Brazilian national team – the Seleção – announced its willingness to participate, despite having voiced its open opposition to the tournament in a rare public statement.
According to the World Health Organization, the country has recorded more than 17 million confirmed cases and more than 480,000 deaths. More than 70 million vaccine doses have been administered.
As well as the Venezuelan players and officials testing positive, four members of the Bolivian team also tested positive for coronavirus.
And now, Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has expressed concerns about contracting the virus while with his national team.
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Messi, whose Argentina side will face Chile in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, said the fear of contracting the virus was widespread in the squad.
“It worries us because it is a risk for everyone catching Covid,” he told reporters. “We try to be careful but it’s not easy. These things happen.”
“We’ll try to do all we can so no one gets it but sometimes it doesn’t depend solely on ourselves.”