Brazil defend Copa America title

Maracaibo, July 16:

Julio Baptista scored in the fourth minute and Brazil went on to beat Argentina 3-0 on Sunday to win the Copa America for the second consecutive time over its longtime South American rival.

Roberto Ayala had an own-goal just before halftime and Dani Alves scored his first of the tournament in the 69th to secure Brazil’s eighth title in the South American championship.

It was the second straight time Brazil and Argentina had met in the final, with Brazil prevailing three years ago on penalties in Peru. This time, Argentina was intent on reclaiming the crown and winning a record 15th title. It brought its full national team while Brazil arrived with a second-choice side after several of its regulars, like Ronaldinho and Kaka, asked to be excused.

“Lots of people criticized our team, but we’re the champions,” said Brazilian striker Robinho, who finished as the tournament’s top socrer with six goals. It was the 10th meeting between the heavyweights of South America in the final, with Brazil winning for the just the second time.

“Losing like this makes you angry, but there’s nothing more we can do but wait for another final,” Argentina’s Lionel Messi said. Others were even more somber. “We’re totally ruined,” Esteban Cambiasso said. “Losing like this penetrates your soul.” Mexico beat Uruguay 3-1 on Saturday to finish in third.

Argentina dominated possession early, but the five-time World Cup champion capitalised on a more rapid counterattack and sloppy defense to punish its longtime rival. Baptista put Brazil ahead on its first foray forward, hitting a ball into the far-side netting past stunned Argentine keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri.

Argentina had a chance to equalise five minutes later when Juan Sebastian Veron redirected a cross from Messi, but Juan Roman Riquelme slammed it off the left post. Ayala hurt Argentina’s chances five minutes before halftime, sliding to clear a low cross by Alves but instead knocking inside his own right post.

Alves, who replaced an injured Elano in the 33rd minute, all but secured the victory, finishing a counter led by Vagner Love and beating Abbondanzieri to his right.

Argentina entered the Copa America and Sunday’s final at sold-out Pachencho Romero stadium seeking to avenge its loss three years ago, when it took an 87th-minute lead only to allow an injury time equaliser and succumb on penalties.

Manager Alfio Basile returned six veterans from that loss, along with a star-studded roster of European-based players, to claim Argentina’s first Copa America title since 1993 — when he last managed the side.