Sao Paulo: The Copa America Centenario erupted into controversy on Sunday after a refereeing blunder sent Brazil crashing to a 1-0 defeat against Peru—and out of the tournament.
The defeat left Brazil struggling to digest their worst performance in the Copa America since 1987, the last occasion the five-time world champions failed to make it past the group stage.
Brazil, needing only a draw to qualify for the quarter-finals as winners of Group B, looked to be on course for a place in the last eight with 15 minutes to go against Peru.
But a rare foray into Brazilian territory from Peru ended with Raul Ruidiaz bundling in Andy Polo’s cross from the byline, appearing to use his arm to score.
Ruidiaz wheeled away to celebrate and Uruguayan referee Andres Cunha signalled for the goal.
Brazil’s players protested furiously, swarming around Cunha in a bid to persuade the official to reverse his decision.
The protests appeared to have swayed Cunha, who looked to be frantically checking with the fourth official via his headpiece to determine whether the goal should stand.
Yet after a chaotic delay of around four minutes—with players from both sides surrounding the referee—Cunha ruled the goal should stand.
Multiple replays from different angles however showed that Ruidiaz had used his arm to knock the ball into the net past Brazil keeper Alisson.
Brazil pressed forward in the final closing minutes in an attempt to find an equaliser that would take them through but it was to no avail.
Elias squandered a golden chance from close range in injury time and Brazil’s fate was sealed.
Peru will now play Colombia in the quarter-finals after finishing top of Group B.
Despite the controversial nature of the result, Brazil coach Dunga is likely to come under renewed pressure after what was a lacklustre tournament.
The Brazilians, desperate to begin the road to recovery after their humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in the World Cup semi-finals two years ago, never convinced at any point of the group stage.
A 0-0 opening draw with Ecuador—where a refereeing decision which might have given Ecuador a victory went in Brazil’s favour—was followed by a 7-1 drubbing of Haiti, arguably the weakest team in the tournament.
Another drab display against Peru followed on Sunday, with Dunga’s side barely getting a shot on goal in the first-half with the exception of a shot by Gabriel in the 26th minute that was tipped away by Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.
Meanwhile, defiant Brazil manager Dunga brushed off suggestions that early elimination from the Copa America would cost him his job on Sunday, telling reporters that he feared “only death” and not unemployment.
There was immediate speculation over Dunga’s future after Peru’s contentious 1-0 win eliminated Brazil in the group stage but the former World Cup-winning captain expects to be leading Brazil at their home Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
“I am only afraid of death, I am not afraid of that,” he said when asked if he feared losing his job after Brazil’s early exit from the centenary Copa America being hosted by the United States.
“The president knows what we are doing, how we are working, we know about the pressure, and we know that the job comes with criticism,” Dunga told reporters after the game in Boston.
“When you work for the Brazil national team you have to know the criticism will mount when you don’t get results but internally we know what we are doing.”
Dunga bemoaned the impatience of his critics at home and repeated his mantra that restructuring the game in Brazil would take time after a painful 2014 World Cup campaign.
The former Internacional, Fiorentina and Stuttgart midfielder was given the task of reviving Brazilian soccer after their humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in the semi-finals of the tournament they hosted two years ago.
Pleading for patience
However, after a bright start to his second spell in charge, Brazil were knocked out of last year’s Copa America at the quarter-final stage and currently sit sixth in South America’s 10-team qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup.
He has also failed to make many friends with his combative approach and the knives are being sharpened after the eight-times Copa America champions failed to make the second round for the first time in 29 years.
Dunga, though, blamed the defeat on the officials who failed to see that Peru’s goal was punched into the net and appealed for time to revamp the national side, which is widely held to be one of the weakest Brazil teams for decades.
“We lauded Germany for 14 years of work (in restructuring their football),” he said.
“And in Brazil we want everything to be changed easily in two minutes. In football, you have to have patience when you start your work and you have to persist and you have to have confidence in what you’re doing.
“When you don’t get results people are less tolerant. For a long time Brazil won a lot until 1970. And then from 1994 until 2002 we won a lot and so we Brazilians got used to winning. Now we are in a period of transition and we have to be patient.
“Germany had that patience. Of course Brazilians don’t have that patience. We want immediate solutions but immediate solutions come with continuity.” Reuters