Copa America Dream Final: It’s Argentina (Messi) vs Brazil (Neymar)

The last time the two sides met in a Copa America final was in 2007 when Brazil won 3-0

Lionel Messi embracing Emiliano Martínez after the match. Photo: Twitter

It is Messi vs Neymar for glory in Latin American football — Argentina will face Brazil on July 10 at the historic Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Argentina won the semi-final against Colombia 3-2 on penalties after three stunning saves by goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez after regular time ended 1-1 at the Mané Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia on Tuesday.

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“Dibu is a phenomenon. We trusted him,” Messi said after the match, in a reference to Martinez’s nickname.

KEY STATS AHEAD OF BIG SHOWDOWN

  • Brazil and Argentina have faced each other a total of 105 times (including friendlies).
  • Brazil has 41 wins and Argentina has 38. (26 draws)
  • Argentina has 160 goals against Brazil while the latter has 163.
  • Argentina leads Brazil in Copa America wins with their 14 to Brazil’s nine.
  • The two nations have 20 international titles each.

Argentina hasn’t won a major title since 1993 when it won Copa America. On that occasion, the team eliminated Colombia on penalties 6-5 in the semi-final after a goalless draw.

Brazil beat Peru 1-0 on Monday to advance to the final. The Selecao has never lost a Copa America final at home and has won five out of six matches so far. Neymar said after the semi-final he wanted to meet his Barcelona mentor Messi at the decider.

“Both of us are in the final, I know Neymar said it because we are friends and he wanted me to be there too,” said Messi.

“It will surely be very close and difficult. We are aiming high, we managed to get the first objective of playing the final, playing all matches. Now we are aiming higher than ever, we are going to seek that Copa.”

Also read: Copa America begins in COVID shadow: A ready reckoner for you

Messi and Neymar add to the long list of football veterans the two countries have produced. They played together in Barcelona from 2013 until 2017 when Neymar decided to leave the club. One of the conjectured reasons has been that he felt overshadowed by the Argentine footballer.

It took Argentina only seven minutes to open the scoring. Rodrigo de Paul found Messi in the penalty box with a through the pass. The star earned his fifth assist in the tournament with a pass to Lautaro Martinez, who put the ball in the right corner past Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina.

A more aggressive Colombia, led by Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, hit the bar and the post in the first half before it levelled in the 61st minute with Luis Diaz, who received the ball on the left of Argentina’s box shot almost with no angle to beat Martinez.

Argentina reacted after 67 minutes when Ángel di María came into the match, replacing Nico González. The winger created several opportunities including one in the 80th minute that ended with Davinson Sanchez saving a finish by Lautaro Martinez on the goal line.

The last big opportunity in regular time came with Messi hitting Ospina’s right post in the 81st minute from short range.

Martinez saved the shots taken by Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona in the shootout. Messi converted his opportunity from the spot and was one of the most joyous players in the celebrations. He seeks his first major title with Argentina against favourites Brazil.

Rodrigo de Paul missed his shot, but Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez netted their chances for Argentina in the shootout. Cuadrado and Miguel Borja scored from the spot for Colombia.

Martinez, in tears, said after the match, “I wanted to face the Brazilians in the final in the Maracana Stadium.”

“This is a matter of luck, today it was mine. Brazil is a great team, the favourite. But we have a great coach, we have the best player in the world and we will try to win it,” said Martinez.

“We have nothing to regret,” said Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda. He had also reached the semi-final with Chile in 2019 and lost.

“Now we have to wait for soccer to give our effort back so we can give some joy to the Colombian people some other time,” added Rueda.

Argentina and Colombia were the original hosts of Copa America, which was shifted to Brazil two weeks before kick-off. Colombia will play on Friday in the third-place playoff against Peru.

Also read: Copa America has no host: Argentina dropped due to COVID

So far, Messi hasn’t found success with his national team despite making it to the finals on three separate occasions (2014 FIFA World Cup and 2015, 2016 Copa America). This final is also for him to see if he can finally crack the code and remove the one blip in his football resume: the absence of an international trophy.

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