Brazil overcame Neymar’s absence on Sunday to reach the Copa America quarter-finals thanks to goals from Thiago Silva and Roberto Firmino.
Silva’s early thundering volley and Firmino’s second-half tap-in gave Brazil a 2-1 victory over Venezuela in the final group-stage match of the Copa America in Santiago, simultaneously saving Colombia from elimination.
Colombia had earlier been held to a scoreless draw by Peru in Group C but Jose Pekerman’s side advanced as one of the two best third-placed teams at the South American continental championships.
A draw at the Estadio Monumental David Arellano would have eliminated Colombia, with both Brazil and Venezuela progressing, but Dunga’s Brazilians underlined their unwillingness to manufacture a result in the ninth minute.
An out-swinging corner from Robinho was met by Silva at the penalty spot and his side-foot volley flew over the head of Alain Baroja and into the net, although questions will be asked about the reaction speed of Venezuela’s goalkeeper.
After a fairly pedestrian first half, the second started rapidly as Venezuela sought an equaliser but it was Brazil, who again got on the scoreboard, with Firmino finishing off fine lead-up work from Willian in the 51st minute to effectively clinch three points, although Miku’s late strike ensured a tense finale.
Neymar sat in the stands throughout Brazil’s victory, with the Barcelona forward sitting out the first match of his four-game ban, although the Brazilian Football Confederation are expected to appeal the penalty, which would see the 23-year-old miss the rest of the tournament.
Brazil surged to the top of Group C with six points, setting up a quarter-final rematch with Paraguay in Concepcion on Saturday.
Paraguay stunned Brazil on penalties at the same stage on their way to the final four years ago.
After opening the scoring and putting one foot firmly in the last-eight, Brazil allowed Venezuela plenty of possession in the first 45 minutes, but Noel Sanvicente’s men were unwilling to go into all-out attack mode because of the threat of counter-attacks led by Robinho.
Venezuela registered just one shot on target in the first half – a flick from Andres Tunez from Roberto Rosales’ 30th-minute free-kick – and despite their more adventurous resumption after the break, they were two goals behind before they could really react.
After Philippe Coutinho sliced a shot wide 15 seconds after half-time and Silva forced Baroja into a stunning low stop with a header soon after, Firmino struck to double Brazil’s lead.
A flowing passing move saw the ball eventually reach Willian on the left wing, and the Chelsea midfielder’s quick feet saw him get away from his marker before crossing with the outside of his right boot to set up the goal.
Tunez was again at least partly to blame, as the Venezuelan centre-back lost track of Firmino, just as he did for Silva’s first-half goal.
Sanvicente’s side gave themselves hope when skipper Juan Arango’s free-kick was palmed onto the post by Jefferson in the 84th minute and Miku stooped to head home his first international goal since 2012 but it was not enough to save Venezuela from elimination.
Miku could have pulled off an incredible comeback in stoppage time but Josef Martinez’s cross flashed just over his head with the goal gaping.
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