The Albiceleste face fierce rivals and tournament hosts Brazil at the semi-finals of the Copa America on Tuesday with five-time World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi still in the hunt for his first major international trophy. The tie is the 110th matchup between the South American giants with Brazil claiming 45 victories while their rivals are fast on their heels with 39 games won. 25 other matches have ended in a stalemate.
It promises to be an intriguing game, as a history-chasing Messi leads a resurgent Argentina side against a Selecao team sorely missing the audacious talents of PSG’s Neymar but spurred on nonetheless by a football-crazy public.
The inconsistent hosts have blown hot — blasting past Peru (5 – 0) and Bolivia (3-0) — and cold –stuttering against Venezuela (0-0) — before needing the luck of penalties in the quarter-finals to see off the spirited challenge of Paraguay, a team that played over an hour with 10 men following Fabian Balbuena’s dismissal.
Brazil will look to finally banish the ghosts of Belo Horizonte as they return to the scene of their incredulous 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany at the 2014 World Cup.
Coach Tite’s side welcome back Casemiro to the starting XI after his suspension for the quarterfinal. The Real Madrid’s star will be a vital player in a defence that would need to be at its peak to stop Messi, the highest scoring Argentine in history. The Brazil coach was clear when he said ahead of the game, “You can’t cancel out Messi, no, you can slow his actions, but you cannot neutralise his actions.”
Casemiro will be key to that slowing down
Tite should retain his winning XI with Gabriel Jesus expected to partner Everton, with the pair’s performance pushing them to the front burner after both started the Copa America on the bench. Firmino is a shoo-in for the lone striker role especially as Richarlison recovers from a knock.
Brazil’s Expected XI: Alisson; D Alves, Marquinhos, T Silva, F Luis; Casemiro, Arthur; G Jesus, P Coutinho, Everton; R Firmino.
Argentina are starting to come into their own after a near-catastrophic start to the tournament. The Albiceleste needed a last gasp victory over Qatar to even make it out of the group stages. However, a disciplined performance to knock out Venezuela (a 2-0 victory) in the quarterfinals, suggests that Lionel Scaloni’s side are in high spirits against their great rivals.
The coach appears to have settled for an attacking unit comprising Aguero and Martinez supported by Messi. He also retains the advantage to call on the talents of the likes of Di Maria and Paulo Dybala from the bench to influence proceedings.
Argentina have made it to the title match of the Copa America at the last two editions and will aim to go one better this time, with Brazil on Wednesday morning being the next hurdle en route that target.
Argentina’s Expected XI: F Armani; J Foythe, N Tagliafico, N Otamendi, G Pezella; L Paredes, M Acuna, P Rodrigo; L Messi, S Aguero, L Martinez. (4-3-3).
Will Messi Come To The Party?
It is important to note that Messi is yet to hit top form at the Copa. One goal – from the penalty spot – and no assist is disappointing by the Barcelona’s number 10 standards. Even the player knows he has failed to transfer his imperious form shown for Barcelona in 2018-19 season over to the international arena.
“In truth, I am not having my best Copa America,” the Albiceleste captain confessed after the Venezuelan game, where goals from Lautaro Martinez and Giovani Lo Celso got Scaloni’s men past their opponents.
Yet Lionel Messi’s Copa America’s semifinal record for Argentina should have the Brazilian fans worried ahead of the game. Messi has shown time and again that he can handle the pressure of a semifinal tie having guided Argentina to the final at three different times – only to stumble at the last hurdle each time.
No one can rule out a player whose magic can decide a match within a split second.
Brazil will be confident though, that they have enough resources – even in the absence of their own prodigious star – to thrive.
Meanwhile, Defending champions Chile will take on Peru, who surprisingly knocked out Uruguay, in the other semifinal encounter.