Brazil's weeping hero: Red card but redemption for Jesus to banish World Cup demons

Gabriel Jesus Everton Brazil Peru Copa America 2019
Luis Acosta
The Selecao were crowned kings of South America for the first time since 2007 with victory over Peru, in a game where Jesus took centre-stage

How quickly fortunes can change in football. 

Just over a year ago Gabriel Jesus cut a distraught figure as he was blamed for Brazil's World Cup exit at the hands of Belgium. Now, after superlative performances against Argentina and Peru, the young Manchester City striker is the toast of a nation as he made the headlines in every sense on the way to his side's first major title since their Copa America win of 2007. 

In a country where glory in every World Cup is considered almost their birthright, the assigning of a scapegoat if success fails to follow is practically a national pastime. 

From hapless, vilified goalkeeper Barbosa in 1950 to the sobbing David Luiz following his meltdown against Germany in the Mineirao, Brazil's failures have come complete with a name and face. In Russia that man was Jesus, who paid the price for his inability to hit the target in the quarter-final and was substituted after less than an hour of play. 

He has had a long road to recovery since that setback, but on Sunday in front of a packed Maracana Jesus finally found redemption in international colours as he spearheaded a 3-1 victory over Peru to claim the trophy for Brazil. 

Until the knockout stages the forward was not even in Tite's first-team plans. Only Richarlison's forced absence due to a bout of the mumps opened the door for City's star, and in the somewhat unfamiliar role of right winger as Roberto Firmino remained first choice at centre-forward. 

It was then that he began to turn the page. Jesus was one of the brightest players on the pitch when Brazil were frustrated by Paraguay before prevailing on penalties, and starred with a goal and assist to take down Argentina in the last four. 

But he saved his best performance for last, to finally end the challenge of an enterprising Peru team that deserve credit for playing the hosts at their own game and attacking constantly in Rio de Janeiro. 

After just 15 minutes largely dominated by the Inca, Brazil made the breakthrough with a goal that owed everything to the youngster's stunning ability. Played in by Dani Alves on the right, Jesus did brilliantly to shake off the attentions of his markers before floating a delightful cross over the flat-footed Peru backline and directly into the path of Everton, who finished with class past Pedro Gallese. 

The Gremio man has been Brazil's revelation this Copa in Neymar's absence, but on this occasion it was Jesus who deserved all the plaudits to put his side 1-0 up early on and set Peru a mammoth task. 

Gabriel Jesus Miguel Trauco Brazil Peru Copa America 2019

Typically, the visitors were not cowed. They kept coming at Brazil, and 43 minutes in forced a penalty which the evergreen Paolo Guerrero converted, sending Alisson the wrong way to mark the first goal conceded by the Liverpool shot-stopper in the tournament. 

As against Argentina, Brazil had let their foot off the accelerator; but this time they had paid the price. As the seconds ticked towards half-time a tense break awaited the overwhelming favourites, who may just have felt some doubt creeping in following that blow. 

Thanks to Jesus, though, order was restored almost instantly. Arthur opened up the defence with another wonderful individual dribble to send the striker through, and he stroked the ball past Gallese to put his side ahead again seconds before the break. As interventions go, they do not get much more timely than that as instantly nerves were calmed and the Maracana sent into raptures. 

Tite's 2019 Selecao will not go into the annals of history as a classic Brazil team in the tradition of those great sides of 1958, 1982 or even 2002. They overpowered rather than outplayed their opponents, with that 5-0 drubbing of Peru – unrecognisable from the team that pushed them all the way in the final – the only time in the entire competition they really cut loose with scintillating football. 

What they had in bounds, however, is efficiency. Jesus' goal marked their fourth from five shots on target between the semis and final, an incredible conversion rate that underlines both this team's ability to create clear chances and its ruthlessness in finishing them. 

Gabriel Jesus Brazil Copa America 2019

Even an extremely harsh red card for Jesus in the final stages could not throw them out of their stride. While the City man sobbed in the tunnel, furious at the perceived injustice, Brazil tightened even further and repelled the last waves of Peru attacks on their way to the title. A late penalty from Richarlison only helped to put the result out of any further doubt. 

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Joga bonito this was not. Brazil are a merciless machine, a footballing anaconda that squeezes the life out of its rivals. But within that collective hydra is concealed vast reserves of natural individual talent which means that when needed they always have a little extra to offer. 

That ability is seen in the swashbuckling incursions of Alves from the back; in Arthur's wonderful passing; in the reborn Philippe Coutinho's swagger when he receives the ball outside the box. It is reflected in Everton's startling turn of pace and vicious shot when stepping off the left, which will surely win him a big move this summer. 

There were heroes all over the pitch for Brazil this Copa. But the man who made the difference when it really counted was until recently their villain. The best players will always have the opportunity to bounce back from adversity: and Gabriel Jesus has proved he belongs to that category with his star turn to return the trophy to his nation after 12 years of failure.