RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Peru is going for one last upset in the Copa América.
After a stunning run to its first final in more than four decades, Peru will try to pull off the biggest shock of the tournament in the title match against host Brazil on Sunday.
It would cap a remarkable comeback for a team that barely survived the group stage but eventually eliminated favorite Uruguay in the quarterfinals and two-time defending champion Chile in the semifinals.
Less than two weeks ago, Peru was being counted out by most. Now it has a chance to earn what would be one of its greatest victories.
“When you make it to the final, you have to try to win it. There’s no other option,” said Peru coach Ricardo Gareca, who is an Argentine. “We reached the final thanks to our own merits. This group is very strong. I think that’s the key. It has the strength to overcome adversities.”
The team’s comeback followed a resounding 5-0 loss to Brazil in the group stage, a result that left Peru on the verge of elimination. It advanced as one of the two best third-place finishers from the three groups after a combination of favorable results in other matches.
Gareca said things are different now, and Peru is in better position to try to defeat the host.
“We have the players to do it,” he said. “We are peaking right now. If I had to choose a time to make it to the final, it would be now. But we know that it will be difficult against Brazil no matter how we are playing.”
Brazil is considered the overwhelming favorite, but Peru doesn’t think of it that way.
“You can call them favorites if you want to,” veteran striker Paolo Guerrero said after the team’s 3-0 win over Chile on Wednesday. “But for us, there are no favorites on the field. We have to stay humble and do our job. There are a lot of people not showing respect for Peru right now. I have a lot of respect for Brazil, but I also respect my country.”
Peru has been enjoying one of its best decades in soccer, having made it to three Copa América semifinals in the last four tournaments. It lost to eventual champion Uruguay in 2011 and Chile in 2015, finishing third both times.
In 2018, Peru made its first World Cup appearance in 36 years, being eliminated in a group that included eventual champion France.
Most players from that squad are back, including Guerrero, who attracted headlines for being allowed to play in Russia after appealing a doping suspension. The 35-year-old striker scored the third goal against Chile on Wednesday to become the Copa América’s all-time leading scorer among active players with 13 goals.
On defense, the team has been carried by goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, who made an embarrassing mistake against Brazil but rebounded with strong performances. He stopped penalties by Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus in the group stage, by Uruguay’s Luis Suárez in a shootout in the quarterfinals and by Eduardo Vargas in the semifinals.
Peru will be seeking its third Copa América title, and first since 1975. Brazil is seeking a ninth Copa title, and first since 2007. It has won the tournament all four previous times it hosted the event, the last time in 1989.
AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report from São Paulo.
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