Football: Brazil's players against hosting Copa America but won't stage boycott

The regional championship is to be held in Brazil in a last-minute, pandemic-defying rush.
The regional championship is to be held in Brazil in a last-minute, pandemic-defying rush.PHOTO: AFP

SAO PAULO (AFP) - Brazil's national footballers said on Tuesday (June 8) they are against hosting the troubled Copa America, but will not boycott the tournament.

The regional championship is to be held in Brazil in a last-minute, pandemic-defying rush after the organisers withdrew it first from Colombia and then from the other co-hosts Argentina over a Covid-19 surge.

"We are against organising the Copa America, but we will never say 'no' to the Brazilian national team," the players said in a joint statement on social media.

"We have a mission to accomplish in the historic green and yellow jersey of the five-time world champions," they said, five days from the opening match of the South American football championship.

Brazil's players were reportedly unhappy over their country's late decision to host the tournament.

Brazil is itself reeling from the pandemic, with a death toll of more than 475,000, second only to the United States.

Experts have warned that Brazil is facing a new surge of Covid-19 that a major international sports tournament could exacerbate.

Neymar and the team - as well as coach Tite - were reportedly caught off guard by news last week that the tournament would be held in Brazil, and there had been talk the players would boycott it.

They put those rumours to rest, but were blunt in their criticism of South American football confederation Conmebol.

"We are dissatisfied with Conmebol's handling of the Copa America," they said in their statement, released shortly after Brazil beat Paraguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier.

"Recent events lead us to believe the process of organising the tournament will be inadequate."

Resistance from players is just one hurdle still facing the world's longest-running international football tournament.

Already delayed by 12 months because of the pandemic, it may still be blocked when Brazil's Supreme Court hears a case against it on Thursday filed by opponents of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

On the pitch, Neymar scored one goal and created the other as Brazil maintained their perfect start to World Cup qualifying with 18 points from six matches.

Substitute Lucas Paqueta sealed the win deep into injury time in Asuncion as Brazil opened up a six-point lead at the top of South America's single qualifying group. Paraguay's first defeat saw them drop out of the automatic qualification places.

Argentina blow two-goal lead

Miguel Borja scored four minutes into stoppage time to rescue a 2-2 draw for Colombia in their qualifier against Argentina in Barranquilla.

Argentina were off to a flying start, helped by woeful home defending, to move 2-0 up inside eight minutes through goals by Cristian Romero and Leandro Paredes.

But Colombia's substitutes turned the game around in the second half as Luis Muriel netted from the spot and then Borja snatched a point at the death.

"We went out to press, we scored two goals but unfortunately we couldn't hold on, I think we were tired," said Argentina forward Lautaro Martinez.

Argentina remain unbeaten in second place while Colombia are just outside the automatic qualification spots in fifth.

Peru claim first win

Peru earned their first win of the qualification campaign but remained bottom of the group despite a surprise 2-1 success at Ecuador, who nonetheless remain third.

In Caracas, Venezuela held Uruguay to a 0-0 draw to remain above Peru on goal difference, while the visitors clung on to a top-four automatic qualification spot.

Marcelo Moreno's penalty eight minutes from time earned Bolivia a 1-1 draw in Santiago with dominant Chile, who took the lead through Erick Pulgar on 69 minutes.