El clasico!

Copa America: Brazil vs Argentina final is more than just Neymar vs Messi

El clasico!

Lionel Messi has never won a major trophy with Argentina. REUTERS

Rio de Janeiro, July 9

A contest between Neymar and Lionel Messi is how many fans perceive the Copa America final between Brazil and Argentina.

The players themselves, though, see the bigger challenge on Saturday at Maracana Stadium will be between one of the toughest defensive lines to break in world soccer and the protection around one of the best players in history.

Neymar’s Brazil line-up have conceded only two goals in six matches. Veteran Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Eder Militao are taking shifts as starters without putting the Selecao under too much — if any — risk. Defensive midfielders Casemiro and Fred are relentless. Right-back Danilo and left-back Renan Lodi are keener to defend than go running up front.

These players initially criticised the South American soccer confederation for shifting the continental tournament to Brazil in emergency mode. Before the final against Messi’s Argentina, they’ve changed their narrative to winning at all costs. And keeping a clean sheet.

“The zone where Messi plays is where I play, we face each other a lot during matches,” Casemiro told a news conference on Thursday. “I can’t mark any player by myself, you need teammates. And you don’t mark only one player. It starts with Neymar, Richarlison and it ends in the goalkeeper — a team plays with 11, defends with 11 and attacks with 11.”

Meanwhile, Argentina have found a formula to try protect Messi, who now at age 34 plays much closer to the final third of the pitch. Midfielders Rodrigo de Paul and Giovani Lo Celso, notably creative players, are selflessly adding to a barrier around Messi. Although they still manage to give good passes to aggressive wingers Lautaro Martinez and Nico Gonzalez.

Messi has scored four goals and given five assists during this edition. Before the tournament, he said it was his dream to win his first major title with Argentina, which haven’t won major trophies in 28 years. — AP

  • 4 Goals Messi has so far scored four goals and given five assists
  • 4 finals The two sides have met four times in finals, three in the Copa America and one in the Confederations Cup
  • 7 World Cups Argentina and Brazil have won seven World Cups between them
  • 19 matches Argentina are unbeaten in 19 games going into the showdown at the Maracana stadium
  • 28 years It has been 28 years since Argentina lifted a trophy. Their last was the 1993 Copa America title

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