The Copa America 2021 should not have existed. The tournament was denied by Colombia due to social protests, abandoned by Argentina with the growing covid-19 pandemic and rescued by the Brazilian government as an escape valve in the midst of the health crisis and accusations of corruption. Coronavirus outbreaks in several delegations, the holding of games in secondary stadiums of Brazilian football and the low audience have proved during the last 30 days that the holding of games between national teams was a bad investment. But finally, Copa América delivered the best it could: a Brazil vs Argentina at Maracanã, a world classic that thrills with rivalries, stars, taboos and the only chance to make the pandemic championship memorable.
Knowing that the duel between the two traditional teams is the best attraction that their tournament can provide, Conmebol built the regulations for the Copa America to have a final between them. Unlike the Euro Cup, where balance and draw allow a group with Germany, France and Portugal, the South American tournament began with two groups of five teams each, where Argentina was part of group A and Brazil is in group B. There are 20 games in the first phase only to eliminate two teams — Bolivia and Venezuela, in this case, which are the two worst on the continent. Then followed the knockout where, since the Brazilians and Argentines had classified in first place, it was enough to win the quarterfinals and semifinals to cross in the decision. And that’s exactly what they did.
Conmebol’s effort to promote the classic in the decision is justified by the history that involves the two countries. Together, Brazilians and Argentines have won seven World Cups and half of the 46 Copa America played. And, if the tournament has been trivialized with four editions in the last six years, the derby as the final will go the other way. It happened only three times, in 1937, 2004 and 2007, with one Argentine victory and two Brazilian ones. One of the two teams always makes it to the final, but they hardly meet in it, which enhances Saturday’s match. After all, it was with the shirts of these teams that Pelé and Maradona emerged as the greatest stars in the history of the sport, who also wore Garrincha, Mario Kempes, Passarella, Zico, Batistuta, Romário, Ronaldo, Riquelme, Ronaldinho, Messi, Neymar and many other stars . The last two, who officially faced their teams for the last time in 2016, will make their first duel in a final. “We couldn’t die without seeing this”, as the Argentine summarized diary hello.
Dying without seeing it was closer than we thought, given Messi’s 34 years. One of the best players in history is in his final years on the field and has one of his final chances to be champions with Argentina. It’s 28 years of fasting for the brothers; i.e, the entire career of the shirt 10 who got tired of lifting cups with Barcelona. Messi lost four finals for albiceleste —In the last one, when he also lost a penalty, he said he would retire from the national team.
He came back with a more posture maradonian, assuming the role of leader on and off the field. In the semifinal that eliminated Colombia, he had the hero’s journey complete: he played the goal by Lautaro Martínez; took an ankle entry and continued playing with a bloodstain in the middle; converted his decisive penalty; provoked the opponent who lost his charge; and ended up celebrating the victory on the field with songs from swathed Argentina. Messi is the 2021 Copa America player with the most goals, assists, created chances, shots and dribbles. His last possible chance to win with Argentina, with the challenge of ending the country’s fasting and honoring the idol Maradona, will be staged at Maracanã — the most famous stadium in the world that, for the first time, hosts a Brazil vs Argentina in a final .
On the other hand, Neymar is also looking for his first Copa America, despite having won other titles with his country. In 2019, an injury left him out of Brazil, which ended up champion at home. Now, he is the team’s spiritual leader, top scorer and directly responsible for the team’s best moves. With a solid defense and an unexpected successful partnership with Lucas Paquetá, Neymar led a team undefeated for 13 games —the last defeat was precisely to the Argentines, in 2019— which, despite not yet having reached its full potential, plays in a pace enough to overtake South American rivals and become the favorite for the second title at home. There is no doubt, however, that the decision will be Brazil’s biggest challenge before the 2022 World Cup.
So many historical and sporting factors explain how a shriveled Copa America will manage to deliver an exciting final. After the whole tournament losing audience on open TV for Globo and on closed TV for Eurocopa, the South American competition has already made SBT take the lead of Ibope in São Paulo this Tuesday night, July 6th, with the penalty shootout between Argentina and Colombia. The same scenario is expected to repeat itself on Saturday. And, if the Cup spent the entire month generating less interest for Brazilians than the Euro, now it wins the duel in the decisive weekend. The Brazil-Argentina winning cup at Maracanã, on Saturday night, is more attractive than the final between Italy-England, on Sunday, at Wembley. And it has everything to be the unforgettable closing of an inopportune championship.
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