Star forward Neymar set up Lucas Paqueta to score the only goal as hosts Brazil beat Peru 1-0 on Monday to qualify for the Copa America final.
The semi-final was a repeat of the last final, two years ago, when a Brazil team shorn of the injured Neymar also triumphed on home soil.
The Selecao will play either Lionel Messi’s Argentina or Colombia, who meet in Brasilia on Wednesday, in Saturday’s final at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium.
“I want Argentina. I’m supporting Argentina because I have friends there and Brazil will win the final,” said Neymar.
“Paqueta is a great player, he’s getting better in every game and in every game with the national team,” he said about the 23-year-old match winner, who plays his club football for Lyon in France.
“He’s just had a great season with his club and is showing that he can be a very important player for the Brazilian national team.”
– Gallese thwarts Brazil –
Brazil totally dominated the first half at the empty Nilton Santos stadium in Rio but had to survive some nervous moments after the break before securing a spot in the final.
They opened up Peru on eight minutes as Paqueta’s pass sent Richarlison in behind the defense, but after beating goalkeeper Pedro Gallese to the ball, the forward tried to pull it back to Neymar who blazed high and wide under pressure.
Gallese spilled a fierce Casemiro free-kick from distance but gathered the loose ball before winger Everton could turn in the rebound.
Brazil were turning the screw and Everton cut in off the right flank but shot straight at Gallese.
The Peruvian shot-stopper was the busiest player on the pitch in the first quarter and after saving another Casemiro piledriver from distance he made an incredible double point blank save from Neymar and then Richarlison.
And when Gallese suffered a rush of blood to the head and charged out of his area only to be beaten to the ball by Richarlison, Brazil couldn’t capitalize as Peru’s defenders threw themselves in front of Everton’s shot.
Peru were non-existant as an attacking force and when they did manage to win a corner just after the half hour, they ended up playing the ball all the way back to Gallese.
Brazil deservedly took the lead 10 minutes before halftime after Peru gave the ball away in midfield for the umpteenth time.
Neymar’s twinkling toes got him free of three defenders in the box and he teed up Paqueta to fire home from 12 yards.
– Self-preservation –
Peru finally had their first attempt at goal on the counter attack four minutes after halftime, but goalkeeper Ederson comfortably parried Gianluca Lapadula’s powerful drive.
Soon after, Raziel Garcia shot wide twice in quick succession as Peru showed far greater ambition than during the first period.
Peru were now on top with Garcia at the heart of their attack and his shot on the hour mark was parried by Ederson.
Brazil started to wrestle back control and Everton shot straight at Gallese before Neymar blazed well over the bar.
Peru should have been level nine minutes from time when Yoshimar Yotun fired a free-kick into the box and Alexander Callens beat Ederson to the ball but headed wide from just six yards out.
It would prove their last chance and coach Ricardo Gareca rued their slow start.
“We paid for being slow to settle into the game,” he said.
“The team reacted well in the second half and it was even.”
But he admitted the 4-0 group stage thumping Brazil handed Peru earlier in the tournament, and a 4-2 home defeat in World Cup qualifying in October, had affected their approach.
“We have to admit that we wanted to protect ourselves a bit given we’ve conceded a lot of goals against Brazil.”