PASADENA: With Neymar sat in the stands Brazil made a gloomy start to their Copa Centenario campaign with a goalless draw against Ecuador in California.
The Barcelona star is resting from football by agreement between club and country ahead of leading Brazil’s attempt to win the Olympic football gold medal at the Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.
In other matches on Saturday Paolo Guerrero’s diving header put Peru in the driving seat in Group B with a 1-0 win over Haiti in Seattle after Costa Rica and Paraguay had also played out a goalless draw in Group A in Orlando.
Neither Brazil nor Ecuador were able to dominate the match in Pasadena and it was the Andean side who might consider themselves unlucky not to have snatched all three points after having a goal chalked off 20 minutes into the second half.
Miller Bolanos crossed the ball from the byline and Brazil keeper Alisson dragged it into his own net but the linesman ruled the ball had already gone out of play.
Brazil had more chances at the Rose Bowl stadium where they won the 1994 World Cup with Esteban Dreer saving well from Philippe Coutinho in the third minute and substitute Lucas Moura almost grabbing a winner with just seven minutes left only to see his header whizz agonisingly wide.
Brazilian midfielder Renato Augusto lamented the result but praised Ecuador, who lived up to their reputation as one of the continent’s fastest sides with plenty of running and counter attacks.
“Ecuador played very well tactically,” he said. “They neutralised our strong points, they are a good team. The important thing now is to win the next two games and go through to the next round on a high.”
They result means that both sides trail Peru in Group B after the twice champions edged a competitive Haiti at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
Flamengo striker Guerrero got the winner after an hour when he dived full length to head home a pinpoint cross from Edison Flores.
The goal, his 27th in internationals, made him Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer, one ahead of the legendary Teofilo Cubillas.
Peru were the better of the two sides but Haiti should have equalised in the dying minutes only for substitute Kervens Belfort to head over when scoring looked easier.
Brazil now play Haiti on Wednesday, while Ecuador face Peru.
In Orlando, the Florida heat worked against both sides in Costa Rica’s lacklustre 0-0 draw with Paraguay, a game that had more cards – five yellow and one red – than shots on target.
Paraguay had the best of the first half but failed to put pressure on Patrick Pemberton, who was standing in for injured Real Madrid keeper Keylor Navas.
Costa Rica improved after the break but were toothless in front of goal and they were dealt a blow in stoppage time when Kendall Waston was given a straight red for a foul on Nelson Valdez.
The draw was Paraguay’s ninth in their last 13 Copa America matches and a good one for the United States, who lost their Group A opener 2-0 against Colombia on Friday night.
The tournaments hosts play Costa Rica in Chicago on Tuesday, when Colombia face Paraguay in Pasadena.