Lionel Messi is eyeing his first major silverware with Argentina as La Albiceleste lock horns with arch-rivals Brazil in the Copa America final on Saturday.
The iconic Maracana will witness yet another historic Copa America final as Argentina take on Brazil on Saturday. The pressure is mounting on the Lionel Messi-led Argentine camp, with the national team suffering a 28-year trophy drought in international football.
Currently without a club, Messi himself is yet to win any major title with La Albiceleste, aside from an Olympic gold medal in 2008. But on Saturday, he will have the opportunity to silence his critics, and that too at the home turf of Argentina’s arch-rivals Brazil.
A win this weekend may also help the footballing nation draw level with Uruguay as record champions of Copa America. They have currently won the title 15 times, just one behind their neighbours.
On the other hand, Brazil have won it only nine times but have emerged triumphant in five of the last nine editions, including in 2019. They have performed well in the tournament as well, securing ten points from four group games before two narrow wins over Chile and Peru in the quarter-final and semi-final, respectively.
Argentina looked shaky at the start, starting the campaign with a 1-1 draw with Chile before securing wins over Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador, in the quarter-final. Lionel Scaloni’s men did have to rely on penalties in the semi-final against Colombia, though, with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez making three saves in the shootout.
The contrasting yet similar form of these two teams heading into this final points to a cautious affair, especially from Argentina. It will be the first final for relatively inexperienced coach Scaloni, whereas Brazilian Tite was the brains behind Selecao’s success in the 2019 edition of Copa America.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their blockbuster finale at the iconic Maracana this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
Argentina’s midfield setup is slightly different compared to Brazil. Lionel Scaloni typically favours a 4-3-3 formation, with two midfielders largely dictating the approach of the game.
Leandro Paredes remains a guaranteed starter in the holding midfield role. However, things get interesting as far as his potential midfield partners are concerned. Rodrigo De Paul is a favourite as he can offer creativity to the table, but Scaloni might just go with Giovani Lo Celso ahead of Guido Rodriguez in the vacant slot.
Lo Celso has the ability to drive forward and make breakthrough passes in the final third. It could be useful as Brazil are likely to mark Messi out of the game.
On that note, Argentina might also opt for Nico Gonzalez ahead of Angel Di Maria as the Stuttgart forward can drift infield more often as opposed to Di Maria’s more conventional techniques out wide. Either way, both Messi and Gonzalez are expected to provide support for central striker Lautaro Martinez, with Sergio Aguero serving as an alternative.
Defensively, German Pezzella should continue to start in place of Cristian Romero, forming the heart of the four-man backline alongside the experienced Nicolas Otamendi.
There might be a change at right-back, though, with Gonzalo Montiel starting ahead of Nahuel Molina. The same cannot be said for left-back Nicolas Tagliafico and goalkeeper Emi Martinez as they are vital assets to the Argentine defence.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): E Martinez; Montiel, Pezzella, Otamendi, Tagliafico; De Paul, Paredes, Lo Celso; Messi, L Martinez, Gonzalez
CONMEBOL’s decision to further uphold Gabriel Jesus’ suspension has garnered a lot of media attention this week. Dismissed for a horror challenge on Ben Brereton in the quarter-final against Chile, it appears the Man City attacker is set to miss the final. It causes a major selection dilemma for Tite, as he looks to choose between Roberto Firmino and Everton in the Brazilian attack. Everton might get the nod, having starred in the 2019 edition.
Likely to start alongside Neymar, Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta, it will be interesting to see how the Benfica winger operates in the final third as Brazil do lack a proper goalscorer. Richarlison is the favourite to operate in the number nine role, but it won’t be surprising to see Neymar and Everton drift into central areas.
It should allow Renan Lodi, the left-back, to make overlapping runs, thus providing the width in the Brazilian attacks. The right-back Danilo, in contrast, may occupy a more conservative role, hoping to offer aid to the central defensive duo of Marquinhos and Thiago Silva.
Speaking of defence, Brazil arguably has the strongest defensive core in this edition of Copa America. Apart from the two strong centre-backs, the presence of Casemiro could be vital, as far as marking Lionel Messi is concerned.
Casemiro’s duties with Messi may make Brazil vulnerable, with Fred being tasked with the responsibility of keeping things tidy in the middle of the park. As such, it won’t be surprising to see Paqueta dropping deep, aiding both Casemiro and Fred in the second line of press.
Meanwhile, Ederson remains a favourite to start in goal for the Selecao. The Manchester City goalkeeper has largely started the Copa America games so far, meaning he should get the nod ahead of Alisson and Weverton.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Ederson; Danilo, Silva, Marquinhos, Lodi; Casemiro, Fred; Everton, Paqueta, Neymar; Richarlison
- Lionel Messi has been arguably the best player in Copa America 2021 so far, securing four man of the match awards in six of Argentina’s matches.
- Argentina are currently experiencing a 28-year trophy drought, with their last major title being the 1993 Copa America in Ecuador.
- La Albiceleste also slightly lag behind Brazil in terms of head-to-head record, securing 39 victories compared to the Selecao‘s 44 in a total of 105 matches.
- With five goals, Messi could become the second-highest all-time goalscorer in this Latin American Superclassico if he can score in the final this weekend, moving just two short of Pele’s record eight goals.
- These two sides last met in a friendly back in November 2019, with Messi scoring in a narrow 1-0 win for Argentina.
Player in Focus
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The entire footballing world will once again look upon Lionel Messi as the superstar forward looks to prove his mettle by finally lifting a major trophy with Argentina. The 34-year-old has been carrying his nation in the 2021 Copa America so far, scoring four goals and registering five assists in just six matches.
Over the years, Messi has struggled to cope with the immense pressure of an international cup final. However, with more experience at the highest level of football and a more competent, young team around him, this will be his best chance to deliver something for his nation – making him the one player worth keeping an eye on in this Copa America finale.
While the spotlight will be on Lionel Messi, it will be an important game for Neymar as well. The two players haven’t shared the pitch for a long time but have a good relationship off the pitch due to their time together at FC Barcelona. However, that friendship will be on the line as the PSG superstar also eyes his first Copa America title.
Neymar hasn’t been as efficient in front of goal as Messi. But he has still led the line well, with two goals and three assists in five matches. In fact, Brazil have often appeared over-reliant on him in terms of productivity, especially as they are without a real striker. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the winger’s performance this weekend could go a long way in shaping the fate of this final.
Argentina 1-2 Brazil
This game promises to go down to the wire, given the well-matched nature of the two teams. Brazil do have the advantage on paper with their strong defensive setup. However, their home advantage will be rendered ineffective in an empty Maracana, while it is also fair to point out that the Selecao haven’t looked all that convincing after the first couple of matches.
It gives Argentine the slight edge heading into this game. Unlike previous years, this current Argentine has a certain belief about them and thanks to the emergence of stars like Paredes and Rodriguez; they know how to play dirty, which often becomes useful in games of this magnitude. Not to mention, their goalkeeper Emi Martinez has given them that extra assurance, should the game head into the tiebreaker.
However, Brazil simply are the better side and might even dominate this game if any of their attackers manage to find their form in front of goal. The Hard Tackle predicts this game to be decided on the finest of margins, though, perhaps even in late injury time.