Despite the turmoil surrounding the 2021 Copa America football tournament due to the pandemic, it finally happened as hosts Brazil won the opening game on Sunday 13 June. Brazil beat Venezuela 3-0, with star player Neymar registering his presence on the score sheet.
Neymar assisted another player to thump the Venezuelan team in Brasilia, with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Marquinhos and Gabriel Barbosa also scoring the remaining goals.
The Venezuelan team and coaching staff were devastated by the positive cases of Covid-19 on the eve of the tournament, with 12 players and their coaching staff sending back positive tests just a day before the tournament started.
And the tournament hosts showed their dominance from the start. Everton striker Richardson scored an unbelievable goal for offside in the first half and Neymar missed a great chance as Brazil failed to change their dominance.
Marquinhos’ 23rd-minute goal from a corner put him in the way as Neymar scored his 67th international goal – just 10 of Pele’s record 77 goals for Brazil – from a penalty.
He was also key to the final goal, overtaking Venezuelan goalkeeper Joel Graterol before being replaced by Barbosa to complete the win.
The win gave the nine-time Copa America champions a fine start in Group A, which also includes Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Colombia won their first game on Sunday night, beating Ecuador 1-0, with a goal from Edwin Cardona.
The stadium was now empty. Before the start of the tournament, Brazil was advised not to throng to the stadium due to the mass march in cases of coronavirus in the country. In fact, Brazilian star Neymar was asked not to participate in the tournament just so not to attract fans to the stadium.
The 47th edition of the Copa America was originally scheduled for Argentina and Colombia, but organizers decided to withdraw it first from Colombia and then from Argentina due to the massive social unrest in the country, and then due to the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro came to the rescue to host the tournament despite widespread opposition and the country’s struggles to contain the pandemic.
Just two days before the tournament started, the Brazilian national team (Seleção) announced their willingness to participate, but made a rare public statement publicly opposing the tournament.
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 doses of the vaccine have been administered.
In addition, Venezuelan players and officials have tested positive, and four members of the Bolivian team have also been tested for the coronavirus. And now Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has raised concerns about catching the virus while in the national team.
Messi, whose Argentina side ended in a 1-1 draw against Chile in Rio de Janeiro on Monday (14 June), said fears of contracting the virus were widespread within the team.
“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.”