On Sunday, Brazil won the first game of the 2021 Copa América, which was affected by the Covid-19 virus.
Neymar scored once and assisted on another to lead Brazil to a 3-0 win over Venezuela in Brasilia, with Marquinhos and Gabriel Barbosa of Paris Saint-Germain scoring the other goals.
Covid-19 positive cases decimated the Venezuelan team and coaching staff on the eve of the tournament, with 12 of their players and coaching staff returning positive tests just a day before the tournament’s first game.
And the tournament’s hosts demonstrated their dominance right away.
Richarlison of Everton had a goal disallowed for offside in the first half, and Neymar missed a good chance as Brazil failed to convert its dominance.
But it was set in motion by Marquinhos’ bundled 23rd-minute goal from a corner, with Neymar scoring his 67th international goal from the penalty spot, just 10 behind Pele’s record tally of 77 goals for Brazil.
He also played a key role in the game-winning goal, rounding Venezuelan goalkeeper Joel Graterol before squaring to substitute Barbosa.
It was the ideal start for the nine-time Copa América champions in Group A, which also includes Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Colombia won its first game 1-0 against Ecuador on Sunday night, thanks to an Edwin Cardona goal.
The 47th Copa América was supposed to be co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia, but organizers decided to pull it from both countries, first from Colombia due to widespread social unrest, and then from Argentina due to a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite widespread opposition and the country’s struggle to contain the pandemic, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, came to the rescue and boasted that the country would see the tournament through.
The Brazilian national team, the Seleço, announced its willingness to participate just two days before the tournament began, despite having previously expressed open opposition to the tournament in a rare public statement.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been over 17 million confirmed cases and over 480,000 deaths in the country. Over 70 million vaccine doses have been given out.
Four members of the Bolivian team, in addition to the Venezuelan players and officials, tested positive for coronavirus.
Argentina’s and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has expressed concern about contracting the virus while playing for his country.
The fear of contracting the virus was widespread among Argentina’s players, according to Messi, whose team will face Chile in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.
“It worries us because it is a risk for everyone catching Covid,” he told reporters. “We try to be careful but it’s not easy. These things happen.”
“We’ll try to do all we can so no one gets it but sometimes it doesn’t depend solely on ourselves.”