TORONTO — As the clock ticked down the final 30 minutes of Brazil’s 2-1 victory over Chile on Tuesday, virtually every fan in the lower bowl of Rogers Centre was on their feet.
With brilliant passing, dazzling skills, and blazing runs, the Brazilians didn’t disappoint in their first visit to Canada in nearly two decades.
And afterward, Brazil’s coach Luis Felipe Scolari thanked the Canadian crowd for the warm reception.
“I don’t think there were any Canadians, I saw Chileans and Brazilians,” Scolari joked, then added: “Probably there was a lot of Canadians there and we received in our hearts the love that they provided to us.”
Hulk and Robinho scored to lift the five-time World Cup champions over Chile in a soccer friendly that was both part of World Cup preparations and a spirited clash between two South American sides.
“They played very well,” Scolari said through a translator. “You could see that we created several opportunities for goals. We didn’t have more than two goals, but we had seven or eight opportunities, and I think that we played well.”
Hulk scored in the 14th minute, the goal coming after Oscar intercepted a pass out of Chile’s backfield. Oscar sent a long cross to Hulk, who launched a left-footed shot past ‘keeper Claudio Bravo.
Robinho gave the Brazilians the lead in the 80th minute when he headed in a perfectly-placed goalmouth cross from Maicon.
Eduardo Vargas scored Chile’s lone goal in the 71st minute, taking a short pass from Jean Beausejour and launching a long shot that tucked just inside the left corner, catching Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar flatfooted.
A chanting, singing crowd of 38,514 packed the Rogers Centre, dressed in either the canary yellow jerseys of Brazil or the red and white of La Roja (The Red One).
If there was any negative on the night, it was the temporary grass field. Two days after the stadium hosted the CFL East Division final on turf, real grass had been rolled out for the friendly, and while it looked decent at first glance, it clearly wasn’t. Early in the game, Brazilian defender David Luiz picked up and replaced a huge chunk of dislodged turf, and then stamped it down with his foot.
A few minutes later, two Brazilians could be seen replacing a chunk of turf the size of a large pizza box. Nearly a dozen officials spent the halftime break tamping down loose pieces.
“I think that for us and for the Chileans, it was difficult,” Scholari said, adding the turf should have been laid earlier than Monday. “The turf was not one that permits the ball to run as fast as a player like (Brazil striker) Neymar could take advantage of.”
The match featured some of the game’s biggest stars — 21-year-old Neymar, and Chile’s Alexis Sanchez being just two. It also marked Brazil’s final match of 2013 and part of the team’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup in its home country — which coach Scolari promised last week that Brazil, already five-time World Cup champions, will win.
The No. 11-ranked Brazilians — one spot ahead of Chile in the most recent FIFA world rankings — scored on the only shot on net in the first half. But both teams came alive in a fast-paced final 45 minutes, that saw numerous near-misses including a 20-yard bullet that Hulk banged off the crossbar in the 56th minute.
Brazil had 12 shots to Chile’s three, and six shots on target, while Chile had one.
“What I take from this game is the courage, the willingness, the desire that our team showed, to play head-to-head with one of the best teams in the world… on a field that wasn’t in the best conditions,” Chilean coach Jorge Sampaoli said through an interpreter. “We were playing against a team whose subs, if you look at the names, are some of the top players in the world.”
The Brazilian contingent in the crowd roared whenever Neymar, a striker for Barcelona, had the ball, including a spectacular 60-yard run in the first half that saw him finally lose possession on Chile’s end line. Neymar looked poised to score in the 83rd minute, when he was one-on-one with Chile’s ‘keeper, only to trip over the ball in the 18-yard box.
The game was part of the Gillette International Soccer Series, and Toronto was a logical venue based on the city’s large Brazilian and Chilean communities. Dozens of flags of both countries hung from the railings around the stadium.
The game was Brazil’s first appearance in Canada since June of 1994 when they had to settle for a 1-1 tie versus the Canadians in front of 51,936 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.
Brazil came into Tuesday’s game on a roll, unbeaten in five games, and the Confederations Cup champions after a 3-0 victory in the final over World Cup champs Spain. And on Saturday in Miami, Brazil routed Honduras 5-0.
Chile, meanwhile, has also had some strong results, including a 2-0 win over England in a friendly Friday at Wembley Stadium that ended England’s 10-game unbeaten streak.
NOTES: An all-Canadian crew officiated the game, led by referee Silviu Petrescu… Some 80 South American journalists — 50 from Brazil and 30 from Chile — were in Toronto to cover the game.