Brazil downplays heavy favorite status in Copa América final

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              Brazil's Gabriel Jesus, left, celebrates with Richarlison his side's 2nd goal scored by teammate Roberto Firmino, right, during a Copa America semifinal soccer match against Argentina at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
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TERESÓPOLIS, Brazil (AP) — Only 13 days ago, Brazil thrashed Peru 5-0 in a Copa América group stage match, with samba-style soccer, goals from long distance and defensive perfection. But Seleção players said Thursday they don’t expect an easy rematch against underdog Peru in the tournament’s decider at the Maracanã Stadium on Sunday.

“Every match has a different history,” left back Alex Sandro said at the Granja Comary training ground in Teresópolis, outside Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian said he agreed with Peru striker Paolo Guerrero, who criticized those who think Brazil is a massive favorite.

“There are no favorites in a final. Anything can happen in a final,” Alex Sandro said.

Brazil will be seeking its ninth Copa América title and first since 2007. Peru, with two South American cup trophies, will play its first decider of the tournament in 44 years.

Five-time world champion Brazil is third in the FIFA rankings, while Peru is 21st after reaching last year’s World Cup in Russia, its first since 1982.

The Copa América hosts scored more goals than any team in the tournament (10), have yet to concede any and will play in Rio for the first time in six years in front of nearly 80,000 fans.

Peru has shown improvement throughout the tournament. The Andeans squeezed through to the knockout stage as one of the two best to finish third in their groups. After being hammered by Brazil, the Peruvians lost one of their best players, veteran Jefferson Farfán, and still eliminated Uruguay in a penalty shootout and topped defending champion Chile 3-0 Wednesday night.

Striker Éverton, one of the best players of Copa América so far, agrees Peru’s moment is different now.

“It will be a totally different match,” Éverton said. “Now it is about controlling the anticipation. That is the main factor. We need to work step by step, prepare well. We will face a great adversary and we need to be ready for that.”

Éverton, Roberto Firmino, Casemiro, Dani Alves and Willian scored against Peru in the teams’ first encounter, with Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese stopping a penalty from Gabriel Jesus near the end of the match at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo.

Substitute Willian, who is frequently used by coach Tite in the second half and netted the most impressive goal of that match, was ruled out for the final because of a right thigh injury.

Regardless of Peru’s improvements, Alex Sandro said Brazil is ready for the final.

“We have young players, but they are experienced. The more pressure, the better it will be for us,” he said. “But we need to pay more attention (to Peru) in the next match.”