The first final between Brazil and Argentina played at Maracanã ended with an Argentine victory. Di Maria, with a beautiful touch of coverage, scored the only goal of the 1-0 victory that dethroned the Brazilian team on its most symbolic stage, ended the 28-year hiatus without titles and secured the cup. Copa America 2021 this Saturday, July 10th. With the presence of more than 5,000 fans at Maracanã, the final was also marked by disorganization off the field, where fans from both countries gathered in front of the gates to get tickets and access the stadium stands. On the field, a tough game, full of splits, yellow cards and complaints, which ended with a lot of party albiceleste and a gala display by midfielder De Paul, who launched the decisive goal of the match.
With no embezzlement by covid-19, Tite did not only have striker Gabriel Jesus, suspended by a red card. Everton Chives was chosen for his place. Thus, Brazil entered the field with Ederson; Danilo, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva and Renan Lodi; Casemiro, Fred and Lucas Paquetá; Chives, Richarlison and Neymar. Argentina responded by casting first-choice players Emiliano Martínez; Montiel, Romero, Otamendi and Acuña; Paredes, Lo Celso, De Paul and Di María; Messi and Lautaro Martínez.
The first half brought the energy of a game that was more disputed than a fluid one. There were splits for Neymar, who even had his shorts ripped by an opponent. But, in the middle of the duels, De Paul found space in the 21st minute to throw on Renan Lodi’s back. The Brazilian full-back faltered, Di Maria dominated and, in the face of the goalkeeper, gave a little touch over the top to open the score. It was the first time Argentina had scored a goal in a final with Messi on the field, in the fifth attempt. The 1-0 lasted until the break, with the Argentines better and creating more chances to expand the score.
Nervous about the refereeing decisions and unable to involve the Argentines, Tite changed at half-time: forward Roberto Firmino replaced defensive midfielder Fred, which put the team forward. So much so that, at seven minutes, Richarlison had already tied the match, but had the goal disallowed for offside. The same Richarlison forced the goalkeeper Martínez to make a great save a minute later. Argentina seemed more nervous with the advantage and even their fans, who set the Maracanã on fire for most of the game, were quieter. In the second Brazilian move, Vinicius Junior replaced Everton Cebolinha, who barely touched the ball, and Gabigol —provoking applause from the crowd— even replaced Paquetá at the same time that Emerson came in for Lodi. However, the changes did not have the desired effect in the field. With catimba and a lot of defensive organization, Argentina withstood Brazilian pressure to end its 28-year fast and win the 15th Copa America in its history, equaling Uruguay as the biggest winner of the South American competition.
Di Maria was chosen by Conmebol as the best player of the match and Lionel Messi was the star of the Copa América, but both did not play a game at the level of midfielder De Paul, who, aided by Lo Celso and defender Romero, controlled the match when the Argentina had the ball and did not allow the Brazilian creation to tie the score. On the other side, Neymar did not omit and, on several occasions, tried to sprint towards the attack, but he did not have the cooperation of his offensive partners. It also suffered from repeated fouls by rivals. At the end of the game, he gave Messi a long hug and congratulated the Argentine.
From a historical point of view, it is the first time that Messi raises a cup for the main Argentine national team, ending 28 years of the country’s football starvation. An even more symbolic title for being the first tournament played by the brothers after the death of Diego Maradona, who was honored by the athletes after the final whistle. On the Brazilian side, it is only the second time that the team has been defeated in an official match at Maracanã, the first time being the Maracanazo Cup in 1950, when they lost to Uruguay. It is also Tite’s second loss at the helm of the CBF team — the only one so far had been the match for Belgium at the 2018 World Cup.
In a Copa América marked by outbreaks of covid-19, Argentina and Brazil were among the few teams that did not report positive cases of the virus in their delegations. In the accounts of the Ministry of Health, until this Sunday, 168 were infected related to the tournament, with 37 players or members of the technical committee, 5 employees of Conmebol and 126 outsourced. The folder also specifies that 22 positive cases had the virus sequenced, and all belonged to the Manaus variant. When the Copa America was confirmed for Brazil, in the first days of June, the country had just over 460,000 dead from the disease. Now, just over a month later, there are already more than 530,000 deaths from the new coronavirus.
Despite the numbers pointing to the seriousness, the Brazilian team did not say anything about the pandemic during the tournament. The players published a letter before its start in which they criticized Conmebol, but without specifying the reasons. Later, full-back Danilo reinforced that the players “were not insensitive” at a press conference after remembering a friend killed by covid-19; Everton Ribeiro asked for more vaccines on the day the country reached 500,000 deaths; Richarlison raised money to donate to scientific projects at USP focused on the pandemic through the auction of a used football boot; and Tite, at the press conference before the final, made an appeal: “Get vaccinated, please”. Neymar, the national team’s most popular player, used social media only to complain about the pitch at the Nilton Santos stadium, where Brazil played four times, and to criticize Brazilians who supported Argentina in the final. “Go to c…”, wrote shirt 10, demanding patriotism from the fans. The complaint sparked controversy on social media and scathing criticism from former player and commentator Walter Casagrande. “More than 500,000 killed in the country by covid-19, a denial government that did not buy the vaccine when it should have, a scandal of the crack (…) None of this makes the ‘patriot’ Neymar angry. But if they say they’re going to cheer against the national team because Messi is the biggest idol of Brazilian kids, it irritates a lot”, said Casão live, who also called the forward “subject of Jair Bolsonaro” and “unsympathetic”.
The sanitary protocols defended by Conmebol and the Brazilian Government, which did not allow the public to enter during the entire tournament, were updated for the final. The organization allowed the entry of more than 5,000 fans in the stands, 2,200 Brazilians, 2,200 Argentines and other guests, as long as they presented a negative PCR test for the coronavirus. A few hours before the start of the match, Conmebol announced on its networks that it was detecting “misleading tests” used by fans. At the entrance to the stadium, the organization allowed crowds of fans and street vendors, many without masks, in long lines that went to the same gate, where tickets were picked up. The entrance clearance caused even more confusion, with shoving and fans forcing their way through.
Although promoting crowds not recommended in the pandemic, the presence of a public excited by the final brought an atmosphere of spirit, national team shirts and cheering in the surroundings of Maracanã, something that had not happened in the discredited Copa América. The same was reflected on television and the internet. In São Paulo, the main television square in the country, SBT led the audience with some slack on the soap opera Empire rerun by Globo. During the first half, Ibope was at 21 to 18.4 for Silvio Santos’ station. It is us trending topics on Twitter, nine of the ten subjects most talked about by Brazilians were related to the Copa America during the half-time of the final.
Despite the peak of the positive repercussions of a Copa America disputed from a sanitary point of view and used politically as a smokescreen, President Jair Bolsonaro did not appear at Maracanã for the final. The president was at a demonstration with supporters in Rio Grande do Sul during Sunday and not even tweeted during the final. Gianni Infantino, FIFA President and Alejandro Domínguez, President of Conmebol, were at the awards ceremony that ended with Messi lifting the cup.
Support news production like this. Subscribe to EL PAÍS for 30 days for 1 US$
sign up on here to receive the daily newsletter of EL PAÍS Brasil: reports, analyses, exclusive interviews and the main information of the day in your e-mail, from Monday to Friday. sign up also to receive our weekly newsletter on Saturdays, with highlights of coverage for the week.