Brazil Overcomes Neymar Absence to Top Copa America Group

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Eight-time champion Brazil qualified top of its group at soccer’s Copa America after securing a 2-1 win over Venezuela in Santiago, Chile on Sunday.

At the start of the day all four teams in Group C were locked on three points. Brazil’s victory thanks to goals from Thiago Silva and Roberto Firmino lifted it to six points, two more than Peru and Colombia which tied 0-0 earlier.

Brazil was playing without star striker Neymar, who received a tournament-ending, four-game ban after being sent off in a 1-0 defeat to Colombia. Brazil now meets Paraguay in a June 27 quarterfinal.

The South American powerhouse with a record five World Cup titles entered the 12-nation competition under pressure after suffering a humiliating exit at the World Cup it hosted last year. It suffered a record 7-1 defeat to eventual champion Germany before losing a third-place playoff 3-0 to the Netherlands.

Under Carlos Dunga, who returned to coach the national team for a second time after the World Cup, the team went on an 11-game winning streak before the 1-0 defeat to Colombia. The loss of Neymar, its top scorer and chief creator, increased anxiety further.

Brazil’s soccer federation said Monday it won’t appeal the ban and the player would leave the team’s hotel in Santiago.

The result of Group C’s earlier game meant that Brazil and Venezuela entered the field knowing a defeat would end the tournament for the loser.

Thiago thumped in the opener with a powerful volley straight from Robinho’s 9th-minute corner before pointing up to Neymar who celebrated the goal in the bleachers.

Creating Panic

Venezuela could have been further behind before halftime. Robinho, Neymar’s replacement, created panic with runs from deep, while set pieces provided further openings.

Thiago almost doubled his tally five minutes after the break with a header from another corner that goalkeeper Alain Baroja managed to stop with a dive low to his left.

Brazil got its second a minute later when Firmino tapped in Willian’s cross. Dunga made a series of defensive substitutions to try to close out the victory but substitute Nicolas Fedor’s 84th minute goal made for a tense finish. Fedor then came within inches of snatching a goal that would have sent Venezuela through at Colombia’s expense.

The 99-year-old Copa America is soccer’s oldest regional tournament. The knockout phase starts June 24 when host Chile meets defending champion Uruguay.

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