Lionel Messi’s Argentina will be hoping to end their 28-year drought for an international trophy when they take on hosts Brazil in the Copa América final on Sunday.
Argentina saw off some nervy moments in the semi-final against Colombia to win 3-2 on penalties after a heroic effort from their goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez put them that much closer to that elusive international trophy. With their semi-final victory over Colombia, Argentina’s unbeaten run now stretches over two years, with their last defeat having come at the hands of their upcoming opponents, Brazil, in the 2019 Copa América semi-finals.
Argentina’s journey to the final has been orchestrated by one man, though – their talisman Lionel Messi, who has had a stellar tournament leading up to the final. Barring the penalties, Argentina have scored 11 goals in the tournament so far and all of them have either been scored by Messi or set up by him. Now at 34, Messi has built a creative force in the heart of the Argentinean midfield along with Rodrigo De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso, which has seen the side grow in leaps and bounds. It’s a very different Argentina at this year’s tournament than the one that lost to Brazil two years ago.
After a disappointing 2018 World Cup, new coach Lionel Scaloni wanted to build a quick transitional team, but that plan backfired with Argentina having been stretched all over the pitch which was evident in their loss to Colombia two years ago. Scaloni and Messi quickly realised this; since an aging Messi didn’t fit into their current circuit of passing, building up play is what they reverted to.
It will be this creative bunch of players in the midfield that will hold the key when they face Brazil, who themselves have played a very intricate and audacious style of football this tournament, complete with flicks, nutmegs and back heels.
Brazil’s game plan seemed impenetrable until they faced Peru in the semi-finals. Quite frankly, right up until the end of the first half, the match looked like a training exercise for Brazil, with the South American champions toying with the Peru team. But Peru’s second-half performance would have shown to Argentina something that they will look to replicate on Sunday. The Brazilians have maintained a strong defence throughout the tournament, but it was Peru’s press from their half that caused them problems.
It was Thiago Silva’s performance that opened a can of worms for coach Tite heading into the final. Silva was easily beaten on multiple occasions, and it was the relative ease with which the Chelsea defender was beaten that would worry Brazil. Throughout the tournament Silva’s presence has held back Brazil, not allowing them to attack as freely as they would like.
Although the combination of Éder Militão and Marquinhos in the heart of the Brazil defence seems a better fit, especially for the World Cup next year, for now Tite has put faith in the experienced Silva, which seems to be backfiring deep into the tournament. Messi and his team will most definitely look use Brazil’s defensive woes to their advantage.
Along with defensive woes, Brazil also head into the final without the services of Gabriel Jesus, who after having earning a red card in the quarter-final – that left Brazil desperately holding on for the win towards the end – also picked up a two-match ban. Jesus’ absence left coach Tite to rely on Benfica’s front man Everton Soares for their semi-final clash. Brazil will definitely miss the Manchester City striker’s presence on Sunday as it was Jesus’ assist and goal that set them up for a 3-1 win over Peru two years ago in the Copa América final.
The final will also be a clash of two best mates off the pitch – and two of the world’s best players on it – in Messi and Neymar. Messi leads the goalscoring and assists charts at this year’s Copa while Neymar has also been instrumental in his team’s goals, racking up three assists himself along with the two goals. Messi, who has previously been on the losing end of the Copa América finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, will be looking to make amends and end his and his country’s international trophy drought while Neymar, who missed out on Brazil’s 2019 victorious campaign due to injury, will look to win his first Copa América.
Fourteen years since their last meeting in a Copa América final, a free-flowing Brazil, who have shown great grit and resilience to overcome hurdles in the quarter-final and semi-final, will be up against a side brimming with confidence. Going into Sunday’s game, hosts Brazil might just have a slender advantage over Argentina, but with the greatest player in the world on their side, Argentina will definitely make sure the hosts are pushed to the limit and maybe even beyond it.