ORLANDO, June 9, (AFP): Philippe Coutinho struck a spectacular hat-trick and Renato Augusto scored twice as Brazil crushed Haiti 7-1 in their Copa America Centenario Group B match at the Citrus Bowl on Wednesday.
The result moves Brazil to four points from two games after they were held to a goal-less draw in their opener against Ecuador. The five-times world champions will complete their group stage against Peru on Sunday.
For Haiti, playing in their first Copa America and their first ever competitive game against the Selecao, a memorable occasion turned into a long night where they were simply unable to match their opponents.
While the quality of the opponent means few overall conclusions about Dunga’s team will be drawn from the game, Coutinho’s laser sharp finishing was another reminder of his growing stature, after a fine season in the Premier League with Liverpool.
“He is really taking advantage of the opportunities he has been given,” said Brazil coach Dunga.
“We have talked quite a lot to him about being the ‘Liverpool Coutinho’ – to take the initiative, be a leading part of the team, all within his own style,” added the coach. The Brazilians took control from the outset with their Caribbean opponents struggling to close down and limit their passing and movement.
Coutinho went close in the sixth minute when he cut in from the left and his low shot forced Johny Placide into a low save. Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro then saw a dangerous long-range drive deflected just wide as Brazil began to pile on the pressure.
Coutinho finally got the breakthrough in the 14th minute and in spectacular fashion.
Filipe Luis found Coutinho plenty of space with the Haiti defence, fatally, allowing him to turn and unleash an unstoppable 20 yard drive.
Fifteen minutes later Coutinho struck again, this time in much more straightforward fashion when Dani Alves crossed from the right, Jonas held off two defenders and was able to slip the ball into the path of the 23-year-old who slotted home from close range.
Brazil were enjoying themselves with Willian rampaging forward and the midfield moving the ball around with ease.
Haiti had their moments of positive play as well but it was their defending and lack of solidity in midfield that left them too often chasing shadows.
The last thing French coach Patrice Neveu’s side needed was to gift the Brazilians a goal but that is what they did in the 35th minute when keeper Placide gifted possession away, throwing out to Alves, who simply crossed for Augusto to head home.
Gabriel Barbosa, a half-time substitute for Jonas, made it 4-0 in the 59th minute with a precise left-foot finish after Elias had broken from midfield and fed him a pinpoint through ball.
Another substitute Lucas Lima headed in Alves’ cross for the fifth in the 67th minute, back-pedalling slightly before getting good power and precision to head past Placide.
Haiti’s fans finally had something to cheer though in the 70th minute when Max Hilaire’s low shot was parried out by Alisson and James Marcelin coolly converted with a side-foot finish to the delight of the thousands of Haitian fans.
Augusto added the sixth when he picked up a loose pass in midfield and marched through alone before driving past Placide and there was still time for Coutinho to complete his hat-trick with a beautiful curling shot from 25 yards out in the final moments.
Haiti midfielder Jean-Marc Alexandre said the memory of his first game against Brazil would always be clouded by the result.
“It is very bitter-sweet for us. You always remember defeats like this. You can’t make mistakes against a team like Brazil and they punished us for every mistake we made,” he said.
Brazil defender Luis meanwhile cautioned against complacency heading into their final group game with Peru.
“It was a comfortable win but we have to be humble, we have done nothing yet,” he said.
“We tied the opening game so it was really important for us to win, which we did. Now we have to win against Peru.”
Ecuador frustrated Peru’s hopes of sealing their Copa America Centenario quarter-final berth on Wednesday, fighting back from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw.
A superb strike from West Ham’s Enner Valencia and a second half effort from Brazil-based midfielder Miller Bolanos completed a gutsy fightback for Ecuador who had earlier gone 2-0 down inside the first 13 minutes.
Peru, who had beaten Haiti in their opening Group B game on Saturday, appeared to be cruising into the last eight after the early efforts from Christian Cueva and Edison Flores.
But Ecuador’s fightback leaves Group B evenly poised heading into the final round of games.
Peru are level with Brazil on four points at the top of the standings but trail with a vastly inferior goal difference after the Brazilians’ 7-1 mauling of Haiti earlier Wednesday.
Peru meet Brazil in their final group game on Sunday.
Ecuador meanwhile are third with two points from two games, and will look to rack up a big win against Haiti on Sunday in the hopes of forcing their way into the last eight.