The Copa America remaining between Argentina and Brazil is feasible however extra magic from Lionel Messi might be required
Some people make a big fuss about Lionel Messi scoring 76 goals for Argentina, just one less than Pele’s total for Brazil, which is the record for South American players. Others are making a fuss over the prospect of Copa America glory that will make Messi another world player of the year. However, the man himself should not concern himself with any of the topics.
Messi only ever saw individual awards as a consequence of successful work in a collective context. It’s all about the team and now the team is Argentina more than ever in his career (and not just because, strictly speaking, he will no longer have a club after his Barcelona contract expires).
He could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel on international football after the turmoil of the 2018 Argentine World Cup season, which ended in the round of 16. Instead, he went all-in.
For years there has been a detached atmosphere around Messi and his self-contained manner is said to intimidate other Argentine players. But he has been different since the 2019 Copa; a loud, encouraging captain and leader who is integrated into the team as both a person and a footballer.
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Messi works closely with midfielders Giovani Lo Celso and Rodrigo De Paul and develops a relationship with center forward Lautaro Martinez. A better team than ever since the 2016 Copa America Centenario, Argentina have reached the semifinals of the previous edition and are two games away from their first A title since 1993.
However, both games will be very difficult. Argentina will have to get past Colombia first on Tuesday and if they do they will face Brazil in Rio four days later unless there is a bigger shock in the other semifinals. In this scenario, the Albiceleste have to beat the last two teams they beat: two years ago, Colombia and Brazil won 2-0 each in the group stage and in the Copa semifinals.
Against Colombia, Messi and Co. have an epic battle with defensive midfielder Wilmar Barrios, one of the best man markers in the game. The 27-year-old has something of the young Javier Mascherano, who walks quickly over the floor, hard in duels, crisp in passing and loves nothing more than fighting.
Lionel Messi has four goals and four assists in the Copa America. Getty
The two nations met shortly before the start of the Copa in a World Cup qualifier in Colombia. Amazingly, Barrios started on the bench and Colombia gave way quickly, conceding two goals in the first eight minutes. They had to watch the game and risked opening the counterattack, but Barrios came at halftime.
While dealing with the danger by organizing things in front of their center-backs, Colombia was able to focus on the attack and leveled off with the last attack of the game, taking an important point on the road to Qatar in 2022 at the end and Colombia is for prepared for a repeat on Tuesday.
Coach Reinaldo Rueda appears to have given up having a playmaker and Edwin Cardona can only hope he will be kicked off the bench if Colombia follows the game. Barrios is therefore supported in the middle by another defensive midfielder, while Juan Guillermo Cuadrado returns after a suspension to play his double role on the right.
Luis Diaz will attack from the left and Duvan Zapata will lead a two-man front trying to harass a defense that threatened to run out in the quarter-finals against Ecuador when a 3-0 win over Argentina was slightly deceptive. They only scored three times in five games but Colombia will be quick, direct and physical.
In the other round of 16 game on Monday, hosts Brazil expect fewer obstacles against a Peruvian team, which lacks the outstanding Andre Carrillo, who was sent off a bit harshly in the quarter-finals after a heroic role against Paraguay.
There is considerable recent history between Brazil and Peru. Five years ago in Foxborough, Massachusetts, a 1-0 victory for Peru in the group stage of the Copa Centenario five years ago condemned Brazil to a humiliating exit, paving the way for Tite’s second term as coach of Dunga To take responsibility,
Peru has since won on American soil again – a test win from 1-0 in Los Angeles in September 2019 – but the competitive booty went to Brazil, which won two World Cup qualifiers and three Copa America wins in Lima: 5: 0 in the group phase and 3: 1 in the final two years ago and – most recently – a 4: 0 mauling in the first round of this tournament.
In the absence of Carrillo, it is hard to see how the Peruvians can stop this streak of defeat, not least because Brazil are on the rise after a disappointing quarter-final in which Tite clearly picked the wrong side against Chile.
His 4-4-2, with Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison outside and Neymar and Roberto Firmino in the middle, left the team outnumbered in midfield – the formation is more suitable for attacking games – but the introduction of an additional attacking midfielder by the coach in the Half-time solved the problem immediately when substitute Lucas Paqueta scored the only goal of the game.
Moments later, Gabriel Jesus was dismissed and his absence by suspension should make it easier to accommodate Paqueta from Monday night kick-off when Peru’s greatest ally appears to be the deplorable condition of the pitch at the Nilton Santos stadium in Rio de Janeiro .
Tite pleaded in vain to find another venue for the semifinals. CONMEBOL were terrified by the poor playing surfaces, however, and the Maracana was relocated ahead of Saturday’s final in hopes of creating a space worthy of a grand occasion with Neymar and Messi or maybe even Zapata.