Neymar assists Paqueta as Brazil beats Peru to advance to Copa America final

Lucas Paqueta scored in the first half as Brazil advanced to the Copa America final with a 1-0 win over Peru on Monday. Argentina and Colombia will play the other semifinal on Tuesday.

Argentina, Colombia will play in other semifinal on Tuesday

Lucas Paqueta, seen above battling Peru's Alexander Callens for the ball, scored Brazil's solo goal in the first Copa America semifinal on Monday. ( Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images)

Many Brazil players didn't want to take part in the Copa America tournament. Look at them now.

The Selecao advanced to the final with a 1-0 win over Peru on Monday. Shortly later, their star said he hoped to see their archrivals on Saturday at the Maracana Stadium.

"I want Argentina in the final," Neymar said after the match at the Nilton Santos Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. "I am cheering for them because I have many friends there. In the final, Brazil will win," he added, laughing.

Argentina and Colombia will play the other semifinal on Tuesday. Only Lionel Messi's team can match Brazil's campaign so far with five wins in six Copa America matches. 

Neymar made the difference on the bumpy pitch of the Nilton Santos Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The only goal of the match came in the 34th minute after he tricked defender Alexander Callens on the left edge of the box and assisted Lucas Paqueta, who just pushed the ball to the back of the net.

The 23-year-old Paqueta, who started the tournament on the bench, was one of leading players for Brazil. He constantly received the ball in the middle, easing the pressure on Neymar, and also marked with intensity.

Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was one of the best of the match despite his team's elimination. He made two difficult saves from short range in the 18th minute, one by Neymar and the other by Richarlison, which could have allowed Brazil to cruise to victory sooner.

Brazil gave the impression it could score when it wanted against Peru, a team the Selecao had beaten 4-0 in the group stage of the tournament. But the second half was very different, with Gianluca Lapadula forcing goalkeeper Ederson to make a key save in the 49th minute after a cross. Brazil still had opportunities, but continued to waste counter-attacks.

"It (the match against Peru) wears us down not only physically, but mentally too," Brazil coach Tite said. "In these Copa America matches we play a mental marathon." 

Brazil will seek its 10th title in the South American championship in its ninth final in the latest 14 editions of the tournament. It was moved to Brazil after Argentina and Colombia withdrew from co-hosting it due to COVID-19 concerns in Argentina and street protests in Colombia.

"Today we were solid at the back, everyone helped, that's the spirit to win titles," midfielder Casemiro said. He was one of the players who before the tournament criticized the organization for sending the Copa to Brazil. "Now it is all about mentality and heart. You don't play a final, you win a final."

Brazil has alarming COVID-19 figures and a crisis at its soccer confederation which led to the suspension of president Rogerio Caboclo after a sexual harassment charge. Caboclo denies any wrongdoing.

Brazil came out on top in 2019

Two years ago Brazil won the title without injured Neymar in a 3-1 win over Peru. Next Saturday's final, which will be played in front of no fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, promises to be more challenging.

Peru will play on Friday in the third-place playoff against the loser of Tuesday's semifinal. Coach Ricardo Gareca said he is hopeful after his team's performances at Copa America.

"The key is the constant overcoming of this team against adversities we face, the reactions we have. Peru has young players who did well," Gareca said. "We wish we had advanced, but now we have to prepare in the best way possible for the future."

Meanwhile, Brazil will play to prove it is the team to beat in South America and one of the favorites for the World Cup in Qatar next year.

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