Sao Paulo: A brace from Philippe Coutinho handed hosts Brazil a winning start to the Copa America on Saturday in a 3-0 victory over Bolivia as the absence of superstar Neymar was quickly forgotten.
Barcelona’s Coutinho scored from the penalty spot early in the second half and added a close-range header three minutes later.
Substitute Everton netted a sensational third five minutes from time to clinch a Group A victory for coach Tite’s tournament favorites in Sao Paulo.
The build-up to the competition had been dominated by Neymar’s woes, firstly when he was accused of rape by a Brazilian model, and then when he damaged ankle ligaments in a friendly last week, forcing him out of the Copa.
If Brazil’s first half performance was anything to go by, the Paris Saint-Germain star was sorely missed, but Coutinho’s brace at least silenced the jeers that met the team at half-time.
“Whistles are part of the game, the fans want us to win and play well, so that’s why they jeer,” said the match-winner, whose goals papered over the cracks of an at times disjointed performance.
“We always want their support but we’re focused on the objective, which is the match,” Coutinho said.
“Whistles or cheers, the important thing is to stay focused and get the win,” he added.
Brazil made a bright start and predictably dominated the early possession and chances.
But surprisingly their greatest threat came from set-pieces with Coutinho’s corner delivery causing panic in the Bolivian backline.
Bolivia’s goalkeeper Carlos Lampe made an instinctive block from a Roberto Firmino flick that came straight at him.
And a few minutes later, towering center-half Thiago Silva was left unmarked eight yards out to meet another Coutinho delivery, but he inexplicably headed well wide.
The pitch at the Morumbi stadium wasn’t helping flowing football, with Bolivia in particular struggling to string passes together.
“We’ve got to be honest, Brazil beat us and beat us well,” said Bolivia coach Eduardo Villegas.