Peru beat Ecuador in a World Cup qualifier this month and a repeat of that victory on Wednesday will see them through to the quarter-finals of the Copa America.

Goals from Luis Advincula and Christian Cueva in Quito on June 8 gave Peru a first win in the battle to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar next year.

The Blanquirroja responded to a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Brazil in their Copa America opener by beating Colombia 2-1 in Goiania on Sunday.

Ricardo Gareca's side moved up to third in Group B courtesy of a Yerry Mina own goal and with four teams qualifying for the last eight, they are on the verge of advancing.

Peru, beaten in the 2019 final by Brazil, will have to improve at the back, having failed to keep a clean sheet in 11 matches but will be on a high after ending a run of 10 games without getting the better of Colombia.

Ecuador are bottom of the group with one point after Ronald Hernandez's stoppage-time goal salvaged a 2-2 draw for Venezuela on Sunday.

La Tri boss Gustavo Alfaro is well aware of the threat Peru pose ahead of the clash at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico Teixeira.

He said: "We must not forget that they have come from being finalists of the last Copa America. Apart from the fact that they had a bad start to the qualifying rounds, they are in a process of recovery. They have a very good and capable coach in Ricardo Gareca.

"I have full confidence in who we are, in the capacities that they have from the middle of the field forward, in how they dominate situations, in everything they have done in knockout games."


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ecuador – Gonzalo Plata

Plata was only introduced as a substitute midway through the second half against Venezuela but surely did enough to earn a start.

The winger put La Tri in front for a second time and hit the target with three of his four shots in a lively cameo, also providing two key passes.

 

Peru – Alexander Callens

A lack of clean sheets has been an issue for Peru, but Callens played a big hand in the win over Colombia at the heart of their defence.

His seven clearances were over twice as many as any other player as Peru picked up three precious points.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Ecuador have failed to win in their previous five games against Peru in World Cup qualification and Copa America (D1 L4) fixtures. Previously, they were 11 games unbeaten against Los Incas in these competitions (W7 D4).

- Three of the four Ecuador wins under Gustavo Alfaro were at home: their only win away from home with him as a manager was against Bolivia, in World Cup qualification.

- Peru are the only side to have progressed from all group stages in the Copa America since 1997. Argentina are the other team that have never been eliminated in the first round in that time, though they did not appear in Copa America 2001.

- Thanks to his goal against Venezuela, Ecuador's Plata became the first player born in the 21st century to score in Copa America.

- Two Peruvians rank in the top four players with the most recoveries per game in this Copa America (at least two appearances): Renato Tapia (10.5), Yoshimar Yotun (9, alongside Ecuador's Pervis Estupinan), surpassed only by Junior Alonso (11).

Reinaldo Rueda sees plenty of room for improvement from his Colombia team, insisting they can never be ever satisfied.

Colombia, who were due to co-host the Copa America with Argentina before civil unrest in the country prevented it, started with a win over Ecuador before drawing 0-0 with Venezuela in their second match. 

Peru, who were dismantled 4-0 by hosts Brazil last time out, are next up in Group B for Rueda's team.

Colombia dominated against Venezuela, amassing 23 attempts – with eight of them on target – but could not find a way through.

Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez was in excellent form, making eight saves, as Colombia had to settle for a point.

"These games are very close and we were not good in finishing," Rueda said after the match.

"The team had a lot of discipline, a lot of intensity. We are never satisfied, we played a good game. We know that we have a complete team, but we know that we must improve.

"We continue looking for that great collective game. This game gives us great lessons. It continues to strengthen us. Against Peru we are going to face a tough team, with different characteristics."

Recent history is not on Colombia's side, however. They have not won any of their last four Copa America meetings with Peru, having drawn three of those encounters.

Indeed, their last win against Peru in this competition came in 2001, in a match which finished 3-0 to Colombia.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Colombia – Juan Cuadrado

In the absence of James Rodriguez, other players have had to step up to fill the creative void for Colombia. Cuadrado gave his all against Venezuela, crafting seven goalscoring opportunities, but his efforts ultimately proved fruitless. However, the Juventus wide man will no doubt be crucial to his team's attacking play once more on Sunday.

Peru – Christian Cueva

Peru still managed to offer some attacking threat in their heavy defeat to Brazil, and Cueva's creativity was on show as he created two chances, drew three fouls and finished with an 89.7 per cent pass completion rate. 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Colombia and Peru have drawn in six of the last eight times they have met in the Copa America. The last two games ended goalless.
- Peru will seek to break a streak of two consecutive defeats in the Copa America. Both defeats were against Brazil (in the final of 2019 and first game of 2021). The last time the Peruvians lost three consecutive games in the competition was in 1956.
- Colombia defender Yerry Mina is the player with the most aerial duels won so far in the tournament (13).
- Peru (118) and Colombia (117) are the second and third teams with the most duels for the ball. Ecuador top the rankings with 130.
- Of these duels, Colombia won 52 per cent, while Peru managed to win 47 per cent.

Brazilian superstar Neymar had quite a few Peruvian players at his mercy with a dazzling display of tricks and skills at COPA America on Thursday.  Eventually, they had enough and the Brazilian was brought down.  Neymar found the back of the net, in the 68th minute, in an easy 4-0 win for the Seleção.  The goal also moved the forward closer to the all-time national scoring record of world football legend Pele.

Neymar to eclipse Pele? It is now a matter of when, not if.

Touted as the heir to Pele's throne long ago, Neymar is only nine goals away from equalling the Brazil legend's record of 77 goals for the Selecao.

Neymar was on target as Brazil made it two wins from two games to start their Copa America defence with a 4-0 rout of Peru on Thursday, taking his international tally to 68 goals.

Often a maligned and criticised figure in the world of football due to his on-field antics – evident when the referee overturned a penalty after conducting a VAR check – there was no doubting Neymar's quality and standing within Brazilian football against Peru.

"It is obvious that for me it is a great honour to be part of the history of the Brazilian team," an emotional Neymar said post-match. "To be quite honest, my dream was always to play for the national team, to wear this shirt. I never imagined reaching those numbers.

"For me it's even exciting, because I went through a lot in these two years that are very difficult, complicated, and those numbers are nothing. The happiness I have to play for Brazil, to represent my country, my family."

Unfazed by the penalty reversal moments earlier, Neymar then popped up and fired a low long-range shot past Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese with 22 minutes remaining.

No one comes close to Neymar since his Brazil debut in 2010. The 29-year-old has scored 49 goals more than any of his international team-mates in that period.

While he only found the back of the net once, Neymar was at the heart of Brazil's big moments.

There were flicks, stepovers and moments of trademark Neymar flare – playing a key role in goals for Alex Sandro, Everton Ribeiro and Richarlison. He had a match-best three key passes and five total shots, to go with his game-high seven fouls won.

Neymar is at the centre of all things good about Tite's red-hot Brazil.

Since Tite took charge in 2016, Brazil have scored two-plus goals in 37 of the 56 games under the former Corinthians boss; 66 per cent of those games scoring more than one goal (W36 D1).

Prior to easing past Peru, Brazil had never lost in the 43 previous games overseen by head coach Tite when scoring the opening goal (W38 D5) in all competitions.

Tite's Brazil – building towards Qatar 2022 in pursuit of a coveted first World Cup crown since 2002 – have won nine consecutive games, keeping eight clean sheets.

Brazil has given the football world some of the best forwards and strikers to play the game – Pele, Ronaldo, Romario, Zico, Bebeto and others.

But Neymar is set to stand alone at the summit.

Brazil extended their winning run to nine games and made it two victories from two matches to start the Copa America with a 4-0 triumph over Peru on Thursday.

Alex Sandro fired defending champions Brazil ahead early before star team-mate Neymar added the second goal in the 68th minute, marking the fourth consecutive match he has scored for the Selecao. 

It was Neymar's 68th international goal as the Paris Saint-Germain forward closed within Pele's record of 77 for Brazil.

Everton Ribeiro and Richarlison completed the scoring during the closing stages in Rio de Janeiro, where the result continued Brazil's exceptional form under head coach Tite, having not conceded a goal in their past six games.

Peru, playing their Copa America opener, were dogged but created few genuine goal-scoring opportunities.

After Fred shot wide early, the Selecao took the lead in the 12th minute, when Neymar broke on the left with his cross finding Gabriel Jesus – who cut back for Alex Sandro to turn home from inside the six-yard box.

Brazil had never lost in the 43 previous games under Tite in all competitions when they had scored first, but Peru still forced their way into the game.

Danilo blocked Peru's first real chance from Christian Cueva's 39th-minute shot which had beaten the onrushing Ederson, shortly after Fabinho flashed a shot wide through a crowded penalty area.

Neymar thought he had won a penalty on the hour-mark when he fell under pressure from Renato Tapia, but referee Patricio Loustau reversed his original decision after a VAR check.

He did not need to wait long for his goal, collecting the ball just outside the box and drilling a low shot past Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.

Neymar set up half-time substitute Richarlison for a 73rd-minute chance saved by Gallese, while Peru substitute Alex Valera volleyed over a gilt-edged chance in the 79th minute.

Brazil scored a third goal as Neymar dashed forward, finding Richarlison on the left and the Everton star centred for Everton Ribeiro who forced home his maiden international goal in the final minute of regulation.

Richarlison added another in the third minute of stoppage time, finding the back of the net following a goal-mouth scramble after Gallese saved Roberto Firmino's initial effort from Neymar's neat throughball.

Brazil head into Thursday's Copa America clash with Peru with history firmly on their side.

Having taken on hosting duties at the last minute, Brazil started their Copa campaign with a win over Venezuela last time out.

Their second Group B game sees Tite's side take on Peru, who they beat 3-1 in Rio de Janeiro to clinch the trophy back in 2019.

While the Estadio de Maracana hosted the showdown on that occasion, Rio's less illustrious venue – Estadio Nilton Santos – is the location of this meeting, with Brazil boasting a record of seven wins, two draws and just one defeat from their last 10 matches against Peru.

Brazil are on a seven-match unbeaten run in the Copa America, with all of those games having been played on home soil across the last two editions of the competition.

Indeed, their last defeat in the tournament came against Peru back in 2016, though Brazil should be confident of maintaining their winning start.

Peru have only won one of their last nine games in total, though that did come in their prior match against Ecuador – the last team they had previously beaten were Brazil in a friendly in September 2019.

In his pre-match news conference, Brazil coach Tite confirmed there will be at least one change, with Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson coming in for Alisson.

"There are three goalkeepers of very high levels. Two are among the best in the world," said Tite. 

"Weverton has been doing a very high level of work in the Libertadores. We are working, doing the analysis together and in this game we decided for Ederson."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil – Neymar

If Brazil are going to defend their crown, they want their poster boy to be on top form. Neymar started well, scoring a penalty and setting up Gabigol's effort in the 3-0 win over Venezuela. He has also completed the most dribbles (six) of any player so far in the competition.

Peru – Gianluca Lapadula

Lapadula seems likely to lead Peru's line in Rio and comes into the game on the back of an impressive performance against Ecuador, in which he created both of the goals for Ricardo Gareca's team.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Peru are the last team that beat Brazil as a visitor in the Copa America – the Incas beat them 3-1 in the 1975 semi-final.
- Since then, Brazil have gone 21 games without a loss at home (13 wins, eight draws).
- Casemiro was the player who recovered the most balls on the first day of the Copa America (15, three more than Juan Cuadrado, his nearest challenger).
- Gareca will lead Peru for a fourth time in the Copa America – he is the coach with the most matches in charge of the national team in the competition (16).
- Brazil had 61.7 per cent possession against Venezuela, registering a pass accuracy of 89.1 per cent (from 550 passes in total). They had 18 attempts compared to three, with seven hitting the target.

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

At long last, after a 12-month delay and then so much uncertainty over the past few weeks, Copa America will start this weekend.

While the fact it is going ahead remains a bone of contention, with even Brazil players suggesting they are reluctantly playing it, Copa America is a tournament that rarely disappoints in terms of entertainment.

A bevvy of world-renowned stars such as Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi will be hoping to make the difference.

There will also be some less-familiar faces hoping to either establish themselves or introduce their names to a wider audience.

Stats Perform has identified seven players worth keeping an eye on over the next month.

Rodrigo de Paul, 27, central midfielder - Argentina

Perhaps the odd one out here given his age, but De Paul is certainly one to keep tabs on. Having just enjoyed a wonderful individual campaign with Udinese, the creative midfielder is eager on a move and will surely be keen to impress.

He had a hand in 18 Serie A goals this term (nine goals, nine assists), while his xA value (expected assists) of 10.3 was the best in the division, the 1.3 differential suggesting De Paul was occasionally let down by poor finishing.

Further to that, he also attempted (191) and completed (122) more dribbles than anyone else, so Argentina will look to him to drive them forward from midfield.

Moises Caicedo, 19, central midfielder - Ecuador

Caicedo joined Brighton and Hove Albion in January to much fanfare from South American experts, who assured Seagulls fans they were getting a future superstar.

He's yet to make a senior appearance in England, with Graham Potter patient regarding his adaptation, but the Copa America could give fans a chance to see him in action.

A well-rounded, all-action midfielder, Caicedo was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Emerson Royal, 22, right-back - Brazil

An impressive two-year spell at Real Betis has persuaded Barcelona to bring Emerson back to Camp Nou after a complicated three-way transfer in 2019.

He has proven himself to be both a dependable defender and a capable attacking outlet, his 10 assists over the past two seasons bettered by only one LaLiga defender (Jesus Navas, 13), while his 853 duels over the past two years is nearly 200 more than any other defender.

This paints a picture of an all-action defender who will work tirelessly up and down the right flank, and on the evidence of the past couple of years, it shouldn't take him too long to usurp Danilo as Brazil's primary option.

Yangel Herrera, 23, central midfielder - Venezuela

A long-term future for Herrera and parent club Manchester City looks unlikely, but he enjoyed a promising season with Granada in LaLiga – that coupled with a breakout tournament in Brazil could lead to promising suitors making their feelings known.

Herrera's a hard-working midfielder who made more tackle attempts (59) than any other Granada player this term, while it was a similar story with regards to duels (509) and duels won (261). Don't expect him to create much, but he's not shy about getting stuck in.

Jaminton Campaz, 21, left-winger - Colombia

Arguably the next big hope of the Colombian national team, Campaz only received his first call-up this month for the recent World Cup qualifiers. Although he did not get on the pitch, his inclusion in the squad was well-received among fans.

Colombia great Carlos Valderrama was among them as he urged the 21-year-old to grasp the opportunity in a post on his official Twitter account.

A livewire on the left flank, Colombia may look to his explosiveness and trickery should games remain tight in the latter stages.

Julio Enciso, 17, attacking midfielder - Paraguay

The youngest player at the 2021 Copa America, Enciso has already played 24 top-flight matches back home for Libertad and was briefly the youngest player to score in the Copa Libertadores this century with his goal against Jorge Wilstermann last year when still 16.

A good dribbler and not shy to take a shot, Enciso has been used almost everywhere across the front for Libertad and could be an interesting wildcard option for Paraguay.

Carlos Palacios, 20, right-winger - Chile

Earlier this year, Palacios made the jump to Brazil when he joined Internacional on loan from Union Espanola, where he had developed into one of Chile's most-promising young players as a lively winger.

While he's yet to score for his new club, he proved in Chile that he has a penchant for a spectacular goal one or two, while his regular appearances for Internacional have exposed him to a far greater standard of football.

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