Neymar and Lionel Messi locking horns in this epic, Emiliano Martinez being the unlikely hero while Aguero and Gabriel Jesus should prepare for impact roles… FIVE things to look out for as Brazil take on arch-rivals Argentina in the Copa America final
- Brazil take on Argentina in Sunday night’s highly-anticipated Copa America final
- Tite’s Selecao squad are looking for back-to-back trophies in this competition
- Neymar and Lionel Messi will lock horns as the talismen for the arch-rvials
- Messi’s Argentina are looking to end nearly 30 years of hurt in the tournament
- Sportsmail picks out five key talking points to look out for ahead of Sunday’s tie
You may think that England vs Italy on Sunday night will cap off a mad summer of football on the continent. If you were to think that, how wrong you would be.
Shortly after the Euro 2020 final at Wembley finishes, Brazil take on arch-rivals Argentina for the biggest football prize in the southern hemisphere – the Copa America title.
Brazil are the holders having lifted the title in 2019 but Argentina are the anxious avengers this year. La Albiceleste have finished in the top three of the last three Copa America tournaments, including as runners-up in consecutive years in 2015 and 2016, but never in top spot.
Tite’s Brazil are looking to clinch back-to-back Copa America titles in Sunday night’s final
They will face an Argentina side who are finally looking to get their hands on the trophy
The trophy has eluded Argentina since 1993, when Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Simeone were in the side, while Brazil’s record in this competition has been far from perfect – with only one title win since 2007.
The final will also see the best players in South America face off. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Aguero, Thiago Silva, Angel Di Maria and Vinicius Junior are all set to face off.
There’s plenty of Premier League talent too: Richarlison, Emiliano Martinez, Fred, Giovani Lo Celso, Douglas Luiz and Roberto Firmino will all do battle on Sunday night.
With so much at stake, Sportsmail analyses five factors to look out for in the clash of the South American titans on Sunday night…
MESSI VS NEYMAR
Undoubtedly the two best players in South America will face off in the biggest match on the continent. Two talented players, the two numbers tens – but two best friends.
Messi and Neymar were devastating partners in the infamous ‘MSN’ striker partnership that won Barcelona the treble under Luis Enrique in 2015 – but, ironically, both will have left the Catalans by the time Sunday’s final comes.
Neymar swapped Barcelona for the riches at PSG in 2017, while Messi’s contract expired on June 30 of this year – but the Catalans skipper is negotiating a new two-year contract with the LaLiga giants.
Sunday’s match will see close friends Lionel Messi (left) and Neymar (right) on opposing sides
Both players hold the key to their side’s fate on Sunday night as their team-mates will look to them for attacking inspiration in the final third. Messi is the standout player in this tournament with four goals and five assists so far, while Neymar has two goals and three assists in five matches.
Victory for Neymar and Brazil would deny the PSG winger’s close friend a first ever trophy with Argentina. Yet despite the rivalry on show on Sunday night, there is still a friendship that will be shared in the final showdown.
Neymar told a pre-match press conference: ‘Messi is, as I’ve always said, the best player I’ve ever seen play and he’s a great friend, but now we’re in a final, we’re rivals. I want to win and I really want to win this title, which would be my first Copa America.
The pair were close friends at Barcelona and helped the Catalans win the treble in 2015
‘Messi has been looking for his first title with the national team for many years, and every time we [Brazil] are not present at the tournament, I cheered for him. That’s what I’ve been cheering for in the 2014 World Cup final, when he faced Germany.
‘Now Brazil is in the dispute, so our friendship is on the line. The respect between us is still great but only one can win.
‘When you’re friends with someone, it’s hard to forget the friendship you have – but for example when you play video games with a friend, you want to beat him anyway. It’ll be the same thing on Saturday.’
Messi, meanwhile, has kept quieter about his relationship with Neymar and described the challenge of the PSG winger as ‘very tough’ as ‘we know what Ney can do individually’.
Neymar (left) has been more vocal about his friendship with Messi in the pre-match talking
But their relationship has caused a stir amongst the fanbase, as some fans in Brazil actually want Argentina to beat their team on Sunday due to the respect they have for Messi.
An example of this is Brazilian journalist Fabiola Andrade, who tweeted: ‘Before stoning me in a public square, let me explain: I love Brazil, Brazilian football…I have several Argentine friends.
‘But I’m not going to root for Argentina in the Copa America final because of them, no. I cheer because I love #football and @leomessi This guy needs to win a title with his country’s shirt! For justice!’
Neymar has been livid that some Brazil fans want them to lose the final as they support Messi
These type of revelations irked Neymar, who posted his Instagram story on Thursday: ‘I am Brazilian with a lot of pride and love. My dream was always to be in the Brazil national team and hear the fans singing.
‘If it’s Brazil I am Brazil, and who is Brazilian and does it differently? ‘It’s fine, I will respect it, but go f*** yourselves.’
CAN MARTINEZ CLINCH ANOTHER CUP FINAL WIN?
When thinking about a breakout star for Argentina who has the surname ‘Martinez’, you would imagine that name would be Inter Milan striker Lautaro.
While the Argentina striker has appeared in several big moments during this tournament, not least his goal and successful shootout kick in the semi-final win over Colombia, it was goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who has stolen the headlines this summer.
Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez was Argentina’s hero in their semi-final victory over Colombia
The Aston Villa shot stopper saved three penalties in the semi-final win over Colombia to immediately levitate himself into Argentinian folklore.
This may be the 28-year-old’s first experience in the international spotlight but the goalkeeper’s last 12 months have been the standout period of his career.
He helped Arsenal to FA Cup final glory last summer and that was followed up with another standout shootout display against Liverpool in August’s Community Shield.
A £20million move to Villa helped Martinez’s continued exposure to regular first-team football and the shot stopper was named as many pundits’ Goalkeeper of the Season last term.
The shot stopper saved three penalties in the shootout win to seal their progression to the final
Now he is looking for another major honour in his career after so many years on the sidelines at Arsenal.
His recent displays have led to praise than none other than Messi himself, who has described as a ‘beast’.
The Argentina captain told reporters, ‘We have a phenomenon in goal. I knew he was going to save at least two (in the shootout win over Colombia) and he didn’t disappoint. He deserves it because he is a beast.’
Martinez left Arsenal because he wanted to become Argentina number one, win on Sunday and he’ll be an Argentinian legend and household name.
Martinez has also enjoyed FA Cup and Community Shield success with Arsenal this past year
WILL JESUS RETURN OR DO BRAZIL PERSIST WITH PAQUETA?
Selection dilemmas were always going to be a problem with so much strength in depth, but one area that Brazil coach Tite needs to think about is who to start up front.
Gabriel Jesus was the main contender but a red card against Chile in the quarter-final for a high kick on Eugenio Mena ruled him out for the semi-final – and a new Selecao hero has emerged.
Lucas Paqueta backed up his quarter-final winner against the Chileans with another winner in the semi-final triumph over Peru.
Gabriel Jesus (right) was sent off in Brazil’s quarter-final victory over Chile last week
The attacking midfielder has excelled for his national team this summer, with Everton’s Richarlison playing in a false nine role for the last-four clash.
With Jesus returning from suspension, Tite now has a decision to make about whether he plays the focal point up front, or persist with Paqueta behind Richarlison once again.
Roberto Firmino is another option, but international starts have been rare this summer. He started the quarter-final clash with Chile but was replaced by Paqueta who then scored instantly.
The Liverpool forward was unused for the semi-final win over Peru so a start in Sunday’s final would certainly be a surprise.
Lucas Paqueta has come up with winners in Brazil’s last two games – so will he or Jesus start?
AGUERO’S LAST CHANCE OF SILVERWARE?
At the top end of Argentina’s pitch, Sergio Aguero is another striker who is struggling for game time in this summer’s tournament.
The 33-year-old, who left Manchester City last month and is expected to link up Messi at Barcelona when the tournament comes to an end, has played just one minute of football in the knockout rounds, with in-form Inter striker Lautaro Martinez preferred in the number nine role.
While Aguero may not play a central role in Sunday’s final, he will be one of the loudest voices on the sidelines. Sunday provides the legendary forward with the best chance to finally end his trophy drought for his country before it’s too late.
Sergio Aguero (left) has played second fiddle to Lautaro Martinez (right) up front for Argentina
The forward has been involved in the Argentina set-up for 15 years and surpassed 100 caps for his country at this summer’s tournament.
But while there is an impressive goal record of 41 goals in 101 international games, Aguero has no trophies to show for it.
This could well be Aguero’s final ever Copa America match as there are doubts over whether he would feature for the next edition of the tournament in three years time.
The ex-Manchester City man arguably has one more chance to win silverware with his country
The 33-year-old could feature in next year’s World Cup in Qatar, but Europe has dominated the most popular tournament in football and there are doubts over whether the Albiceleste can build a squad good enough to challenge the world’s heavyweights.
Aguero’s career is goal-laden across the board, but the only part missing is international recognition in terms of trophies.
WHO HAS THE BETTER DEPTH?
With five substitutes allowed in this tournament, squad depth and in-game changes are more important than ever. Sunday’s Copa America final will be no different.
Like in Euro 2020, the substitutes’ bench for both sides is just as attractive as the starting XI, with a host of unused talent on show for the South American rivals.
The either unused or regularly rotated options for the Selecao include Liverpool trio Alisson Becker, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino, while Vinicius Junior has been dropped for the likes of Richarlison and Everton.
Vinicius Junior is one of many Brazilian talents who have had back-up roles in this tournament
Angel Di Maria has had to settle for a bit-part role for Argentina – especially in the knockouts
On the other bench, Argentina’s high-profile replacements have included Aguero, Di Maria and Sevilla attacking midfielder Papu Gomez – who has emerged as a real gem across Serie A and LaLiga in the past few years.
Sunday’s final is expected to be tight given the rivalry and glory at stake for either side. That game-changing substitution could well be key.
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