(June 12, 2016) – Going into the final round of group stage games of Copa America Centenario, Group B was the most wide open. Three teams were still in contention to advance. Two could still easily win the group. Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador were set to have a wild finish to Group B, and it didn’t disappoint.
Peru Handball Goal Leads To Wild Group B Finish
First off, Ecuador held serve against Haiti as expected. La Tricolor dominated the scoring chances and won with relative ease. Enner Valencia continued to impress with the opening goal and two assists.
La Tricolor punished the Haitians for defensive mistakes at the back with quick counters on multiple goals. They also owned the flanks with their speed and technical ability.
Ecuador didn’t seem too preoccupied with running up the score though. They would have needed to defeat Haiti by more than six goals to give themselves a chance to win the group outright. As long as they won the match by multiple goals, they were guaranteed to advance thanks to the goal differential tie breaker.
With the first match over and done, Brazil and Peru knew what needed to be done. A Brazil win or a draw, and they would win the group. Peru would be eliminated on goal differential. A Peru upset and they would win the group, with Ecuador taking second place. The stage was set for a winner-take-all finale.
Brazil dominated the match with nearly 65% possession and out shot Peru 14-4 (5-2 on goal). Still, the Brazilians had trouble breaking down the Peruvian back line that bent but never broke. Philippe Coutinho and company gave goalkeeper Pedro Gallese everything he could handle, who stood on his head throughout the night.
As much as Brazil was able to create against a technically less talented side, they were not able to break down Peru and open the scoring. Coutinho and Willian were very active and were able to create chances, but no one on Brazil was able to finish. Head coach Dunga did start youngster Gabriel up top, who had good flashes but could not score.
Peru continued to bunker and counter attack, but had trouble making anything happen. That all changed in the 75th minute. A quick counter attack led to Andy Polo getting space just outside the box. He took the ball to the touch line then fired a cross towards the front of goal, where Raúl Ruidíaz was able to direct it into the net.
Multiple Brazilian players rushed to the referee in outrage claiming handball. Upon replay, it seemed clear that the ball went off Polo’s arm around the elbow. It also appeared that he swung his arm ever so slightly (intentional or otherwise) to direct the ball into the net. “Everyone saw” the handball, said Dunga after the match.
The match was halted for almost two minutes while the officiating crew discussed it, with a mass confrontation from both teams. After a heated discussion and utter chaos, head referee Andrés Cunha awarded the goal.
Brazil feverishly tried to level the match so they would advance, but could not. The referee did award six minutes of stoppage time after the 90th minute.
When the dust settled, Peru finished at the top of the group, with Ecuador finishing second. Ecuador will play the United States on June 16th in Seattle, WA. Peru will travel to East Rutherford, NJ to take on Columbia.
This is a result that will not be forgotten anytime soon. Brazil will feel cheated about a ‘Hand of God’ level handball no call. Still, the Brazilians played very uninspiring soccer in this tournament. Outside of the Haiti match, they did not score a goal. They were also lucky to get a draw against Ecuador thanks to a goal being disallowed.
Meanwhile, Peru joins the United States as underdog group winners to move on to the knock out round. If the group stage was any indication of how the rest of the tournament will go, fans will be in for a real treat come the knock out matches.