CHICLAYO, July 9: World champions Brazil reluctantly took the stage at the Copa America on Thursday and ground out a 1-0 win over Chile in arguably the worst game of the tournament so far.
The Group C double bill in the Andean city of Arequipa began with Paraguay beating Costa Rica by the same score and was a huge anti-climax after the heady heights of the previous night, when 11 goals were scored in two Group B matches in Chiclayo.
Away from the action, Peru's players boycotted the media in protest at a tabloid report over a drinking binge while Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe casually told reporters he would be quitting in a year's time.
Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had openly protested last month at the timing of the Copa and showed his displeasure by resting big names such as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Kaka and Cafu.
Parreira is unhappy because the tournament falls in the middle of South American World Cup qualifying competition and during the off season for his European-based players. He also pointed out that Brazil were opening their campaign against the same team who they met in a World Cup match in Santiago one month ago.
Brazil's improvised side struggled to find any cohesion in a niggly match and left it until the 90th minute when Luis Fabiano, who also scored in last month's 1-1 draw in Santiago, popped up to head in his fourth goal in five internationals.
Chile missed a twice-taken first-half penalty, striker Sebastian Gonzalez confidently blasting home the first effort but then firing his second attempt towards the Andes when the referee ordered a retake after his team mates encroached.
Brazil's display was a pallid effort compared to Argentina's 6-1 demolition of Ecuador the night before but Parreira was not displeased. Paraguay, fielding the under-23 team they will take to Athens for next month's Olympics, also left it late, an 85th minute penalty from halftime substitute Julio dos Santos giving them the points against the Central Americans.
In Lima, the hosts were fuming over a tabloid headline which claimed a drinking binge was behind their disappointing opening performance on Tuesday when they were held 2-2 by rank outsiders Bolivia.
Under the banner headline "Drunkards", tabloid Aja quoted unnamed sources saying two players missed training last Saturday after being seen drinking heavily in Lima the night before.
Coach Paulo Autuori cancelled a news conference and journalists were barred from watching training or talking to players as they prepared to face Venezuela on Friday. One of the players swore at reporters as he left the training field.
Mexico, held 2-2 by Uruguay in the first half of Wednesday's goal feast in Chiclayo, were shaken by the news that Lavolpe plans leave in one year's time. The Argentine coach was answering reporters' questions about Saturday's game with Argentina when he said: "I'm on my way out. I'll coach the team for another year more and that'll be it, it's good enough for me."
His decision could leave the team in trouble at a crucial stage of the World Cup qualifiers and it remains to be seen whether his resignation will be accepted by the Mexican Football Federation. The final mini-league stage of the CONCACAF region's qualifiers will be reaching their halfway mark this time next year. -Reuters