Coutinho Hat-Trick Shows He Can Breathe Life In To A Comatose Brazil At Copa America
By Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven)
Some say this incarnation of the Copa America doesn’t mean as much as the original does. That the Centenario variation of the tournament doesn’t carry the same weight of significance, underlined by the number of star players missing from action. It’s unlikely Philippe Coutinho thinks that, though.
Indeed, the Brazilian playmaker probably considers this competition to be one of the most important of his career, underlined by the astonishing performance he put on in the Selecao’s 7-1 demolition of Haiti on Wednesday evening, netting a hat-trick. It was Coutinho’s coming out party in the famous green and gold.
Sure, Neymar might not be there – instead choosing to hang out at Justin Bieber’s house for the summer – but Coutinho has made the most of the opportunity handed to him. So often little more than a fringe player for the Selecao, the Liverpool man is now the headline act for Brazil this summer.
With Dunga forced to take something of a second-string squad to the United States for the tournament, Coutinho has marked himself out as a difference-maker and a game-winner. If Brazil are to lift the Copa America trophy for the first time since 2007 their diminutive playmaker will have likely been the catalyst.
“Coutinho is taking advantage of his opportunity,” Dunga said following the playmaker’s hat-trick display in Orlando. “He has been following us. Every game and every practice his confidence is growing. We talked with him for him to be the Coutinho of Liverpool, dictate play, lead and take risks.”
Such advice from the Selecao head coach appears to have worked, because Coutinho is finding his club form on the international stage. His performance on Wednesday evening might have been against relative minnows in Haiti, but with Liverpool he has proved himself to be a truly top-tier talent. Now he is in positive to do the same for Brazil.
All the while the Selecao aim to put behind them the humiliation of two years ago. Their embarrassing exit from the 2014 World Cup still stings, with the 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany still the source of consistent questioning to Dunga. It won’t be until silverware is clinched again that the trauma of Belo Horizonte is finally overcome.
“This is a different group of players. It’s another era,” Dunga has insisted, keen to stress just how much has changed since Brazil’s indignity at the World Cup. “We try to do our part by putting into practice what we train. The goals happened as the team had a positive performance. We had a few passes go astray due to the pitch, but we can not use that as an excuse. We will fix this in practice.”
Coutinho could be the player to deliver such redemption. His display against Haiti could be a teaser for what more there is to come from the Liverpool playmaker, with Sunday’s clash against Peru crucial in deciding their group stage fate. The Selecao might have only just realised it, but they need Coutinho.
With Neymar ruling himself out of the tournament, the question for Brazil at this summer’s Copa America always concerned their lack of potency in the final third. At the World Cup they were overly dependant on the Barcelona superstar, lacking cutting edge when he was sidelined through injury. Coutinho seems to be the answer to that question, though.
He became the first Brazilian international to notch three times in one match since Robinho did it nine years ago and now is charged with delivering some form of redemption for soccer’s most illustrious nation. Whether it’s with Coutinho in mind or the Selecao as a whole, this summer’s Copa America Centenario certainly matters.