By Louis Smith.
After one month and 27 matches, the 2021 Copa America comes down to a showpiece final between two South American giants, Argentina and Brazil.
Even though they are considered the continent’s two powerhouses, the pair seldom meet in finals. The first one was way back in the 1937 edition of the tournament and on that day, La Albiceleste enjoyed a 2-0 win over their great rivals.
Despite that Argentina victory, the Brazilians have a better final record overall, winning three (twice in the Copa America and once in the Confederations Cup)
The hosts and holders, Brazil, will be battling to make it two Copa America triumphs in a row after they lifted the trophy in 2019 with a 3-1 victory over Peru.
They started the 2021 campaign on fire winning three out of three group matches, before being held to a 1-1 draw with Ecuador in their final match.
In the quarter-final they saw off Chile 1-0 thanks to a second-half strike from Lucas Paquetá only seconds after he entered the pitch.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) July 3, 2021
In the semi-final another Paquetá goal was enough to see Brazil reach their 22nd Copa America final.
After being hampered by injury in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup and being completely ruled out of the 2019 Copa America, Neymar has taken to this tournament in superb style, playing with pride, swagger, and a smile.
So far he’s created nine big chances for his teammates, provided three assists and scored twice, however, he has wasted the most chances of any player in the tournament with eight ‘big chances’ missed, but that won’t faze the superstar one bit.
Neymar shared his thoughts on playing his first Copa America final.
“It was the final I always dreamed of playing,” he said. “The final that everyone who loves football expects from a Copa America.
“A Brazil vs Argentina, classic for many years because both teams are great.
“For me, it is an honour to be part of this team of Brazilian players. It is obvious that the will to win is immense.”
Argentina come into the game wanting to put their final shortfalls in 2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016 behind them.
They haven’t lifted South America’s greatest international prize since 1993 and if you’re an Argentina fan, the wait has been far too long.
Like Brazil, the Argentines enjoyed three out of four wins in the group stage, setting up a quarter-final tie with Ecuador.
The Ecuadorians didn’t lay a glove on Argentina, who breezed into the semis with a crushing 3-0 victory.
The affair with Colombia, however, was less than straightforward. An early goal from Inter forward Lautaro Martínez gave the two-time world champions the advantage, but Porto’s Luis Díaz had other ideas, sending the game to a dreaded penalty shootout.
With Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martínez between the sticks, there was little need to worry as Argentina enjoyed a 3-2 shootout victory, sending them to their first Copa America final since 2016.
— CBS Sports Golazo (@CBSSportsGolazo) July 7, 2021
After losing in the 2014 World Cup final and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals, Lionel Messi will be hoping to overcome the only critic on his back: that he’s yet to win an international trophy.
The magician is clearly hungry for success with his country and his performances show it.
Messi leads the way for goals (four), assists (five) and most successful dribbles. He’s almost carrying the burden of a nation on his shoulders, but doing so in impeccable fashion. He will be hoping it’s all been worthwhile come Saturday evening.
Argentina manager, Lionel Scaloni had an abundance of praise for Messi following the victory against Ecuador earlier on in the tournament.
“Messi is Enjoyed even by the opposition when they play against him. We are talking about the greatest player of all time,” he said.
When Argentina and Brazil meet there’s always drama, excitement and a good old brawl.
So whatever you do, wherever you are, make sure to set an alarm and be in for an entertaining two hours as two giants go head-to-head.
Ederson; Danilo, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Renan Lodi; Casemiro, Fred, Lucas Paquetá; Everton, Richarlison, Neymar.
Emiliano Martínez; Nahuel Molina, Germán Pezzella, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico; Rodrigo De Paul, Guido Rodríguez, Giovani Lo Celso; Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martínez, Nicolás González.