The CONMEBOL Copa América concluded on Sunday night with hosts Brazil facing Peru in the final. Going into the game Seleção were heavy favourites having decimated the Peruvians 5-0 in the group stage and having kept a clean sheet in every game in the tournament thus far. The day prior to the final, Argentina faced Chile in the third-place playoff and whilst 3rd placed play-off matches are usually seen as pointless by many fans, this was a fiery game with tempers flaring along with some great goals.
The 3rd placed playoff was an unexpectantly entertaining match and Sergio Aguero opened the scoring in the 12th minute, after getting on the end of a Lionel Messi through ball before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting into an empty net. La Albiceleste dominated the early proceedings and Juventus’ Paolo Dybala doubled Argentina’s lead just 10 minutes after Aguero’s opener with a well-timed run and cheeky chip over Gabriel Arias. However, the game was severely tainted when the referee sent off both Chile’s Gary Medel and Argentina’s Lionel Messi in the 37th minute following a brief confrontation. The referee was quick to brandish the red cards and Messi simply standing his ground being unconfrontational certainly didn’t warrant a red card and barely deserved a booking, however, for Medel a booking would have sufficed for the Chilean’s overly aggressive confronting of the Argentina captain. Arturo Vidal later scored a penalty for Chile in what was a lacklustre second half, however, the match ended 2-1 to Argentina.
By scoring yet another goal for his country, City’s Sergio Aguero ended his Copa América campaign with the most goal contributions out of all Argentina’s players, with two goals and one assist. Aguero put in a man of the match performance against Chile as La Albiceleste suffered creatively following Messi’s dismissal. City’s Nicolas Otamendi was arguably Argentina’s best performing defender against Chile and the centre-back’s form has generally improved as the tournament progressed.
With the 3rd place play-off out of the way, it was time for the final and 5-time world champions Brazil faced Peru, a team they had beat 5-0 in the group stage. On paper, the final was to be a one-sided whitewash with the Brazilians easily conquering the Peruvian minnows, alas, the game wasn’t as straight forward as predicted by many
For the final, City’s Fernandinho and Ederson again remained on the bench, whilst Gabriel Jesus’ great form ensured that the young striker retained his place in the Seleção starting XI.
Gremio’s Everton opened the scoring after just 15 minutes courtesy of a Gabriel Jesus assist, Jesus who was once again positioned on the right-wing, rounded the Peruvian left-back with a fantastic piece of skill before playing a perfectly weighted cross to an unmarked Everton at the back post and the Gremio winger slotted home with ease.
Throughout the game, as he does for his club, Jesus made sure to quickly close down any Peruvian player in possession when given the opportunity, and his continuous closing down led to Brazil regaining possession in opportunistic areas several times. However, Jesus’ intense closing down led to the striker being booked in the 30th minute after overcommitting himself when challenging for the ball and colliding with Peru’s Yoshimar Yotún. Jesus’ work-rate was exemplary against Peru and it has been throughout the tournament, the young Brazilian’s contributions to the Brazil squad should not be understated; he has been a key player for Seleção.
Late in the first half, Peru was awarded a penalty following an inadvertent Thiago Silva handball and veteran striker and Peru captain Paolo Guerrero stepped up and converted the penalty as Brazil conceded their first goal of the tournament. However, mere minutes after Peru equalised, Brazil were quick to restore their lead as Gabriel Jesus slotted the ball into the bottom corner after receiving the ball unmarked, 18 yards from goal following some intelligent play by Barcelona’s Arthur.
During the game and especially throughout the second half, Gabriel Jesus looked to play off the shoulder of Peru’s defenders and Jesus’ excellent off-the-ball movement led to the City striker often finding himself unmarked and in plenty of space when cutting in from the right-wing. Jesus would surely have added to his two Copa América goals had it not been for the needlessly selfish decisions of Phillipe Coutinho, who when presented with the opportunity to play the ball through to an unmarked Jesus (three times), opted to shoot himself instead.
For the second game running, Brazil’s number 9 once again had a goal and an assist to his name and the City striker was performing superbly for Brazil, however, the Gabriel Jesus show was prematurely cancelled in the 70th minute, as Jesus received a 2nd yellow card and was subsequently sent off. The referee bafflingly adjudged Jesus to have committed a foul worthy of a booking during a standard 50-50 aerial duel, and the decision to award Jesus a second booking was dreadful, Jesus was livid with the poor decision and was seen in tears in the minutes following the red card. Fortunately, Jesus’ roller-coaster of emotions ended cheerfully as Seleção later added to their lead despite having 10 men on the pitch with Everton’s Richarlison converting a late penalty to secure Brazil the 2019 Copa América.
Following the culmination of the competition, Gabriel Jesus was by far City’s stand-out performer, City’s number 9 was instrumental in both the final and the semi-final – contributing to each goal from open play, and Jesus also heroically scored the winning penalty in the quarter-final shoot-out against Paraguay to send Brazil to the semi-finals. Ederson featured only on the bench, with Tite preferring Allison in between the sticks whilst Fernandinho started the tournament well but picked up an injury which kept him out of contention after the group stage. City’s Argentinian blues Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi generally performed well with Aguero scoring twice and Otamendi rediscovering his best form as the tournament progressed.
With the 2019 Copa América now finished, City’s South American stars can look forward to a well-deserved break before the new season begins next month, Aguero is showing no signs of slowing down at 31 years old and Gabriel Jesus is improving week-in week-out. The Brazilian has been outstanding at the tournament and should his great form and consistent improvement continues, the future looks very bright for Gabriel Jesus and Manchester City.