Ralph Hannah –
Brazil v Argentina – Over a decade since their last Copa America clash, the 2007 Final in Maracaibo, the two biggest sides in the western hemisphere faced off in Belo Horizonte in the first semifinal.
Brazil v Argentina Goals: 1-0 (Gabriel Jesus, 19′) 2-0 (Roberto Firmino, 71′)
Unlike any other game in the tournament this had a real atmosphere in the stadium with the Mineirao expectant. The crowd could have added anxiety to the team, but captain Dani Alves was galvanised by it.
The ole’s were ringing around the Mineirao in stoppage time as the PSG full back was running the ball out of harm’s way at full tilt and winning a free-kick to relieve pressure. It was indicative of how the 36-year-old captain had led the verdeamarelho with a vintage individual performance – impeccable defensively while constantly contributing offensively.
Brazil made two changes from the previous match, Casemiro returned from suspension, and Alex Sandro started at left back. Meanwhile, Argentina did something unheard of, they kept the same team. It was the first time in 40 matches that they’d done so – proof that Scaloni had started to find the right balance after a shaky start against Colombia and Paraguay.
The game was littered with fouls in a tense opening, and both sides soon realized that it would be better to avoid playing through the middle. With Everton closely watched by Foyth and the three Argentina central midfielders smothering Arthur and Casemiro it was down to Alves to make something happen. In the 18thminute he went on a run inside the pitch, taking out three defenders before feeding the ball wide to Firmino – the Liverpool man’s inch-perfect cross was turned in by Gabriel Jesús. It was Brazil’s first shot of the game.
The key for Argentina was, of course, Messi, for almost 30 minutes he looked disinterested in the game, hardly running and never marking. But this wasn’t a lack of motivation; it was a classic rope-a-dope approach from the Barcelona maestro – he was letting the game develop around him to work out where he could find pockets of space.
Suddenly he flicked into life and won a freekick; he floated in the resulting set-piece to Sergio Aguero who looped his header onto the bar. On 36 minutes Messi had picked the ball up in his own half and beaten what seemed like half the team. By the second half, he had even committed a foul, sliding in on club teammate Arthur. His best chance came as he hit the post after a shot from Lautaro Martinez had been charged down, and the loose ball fell to him. Moments later he hit what seemed like a goal-scoring freekick, but the impeccable Alisson plucked the ball out of the top corner.
Brazil seemed to set up to cope with everything football can throw at you except the genius of Messi, but even as they conceded territory and possession, they didn’t panic. On 71 minutes Gabriel Jesús showed just how dangerous he can been when given space to run into, bustling through the Argentina defence on the breakaway and setting up Firmino to score his second of the Copa.
Scaloni and Argentina were furious; they felt that Aguero had been brought down off the ball in the area – that turnover led to the goal. TV replays also suggested that Otamendi was fouled in the box by Arthur. Curiously the Ecuadorean referee Roddy Zambrano didn’t consult VAR for either controversy, in fact, he didn’t use it at all during the game.
Brazil go to their 20th Copa America Final, and they will hope to emulate Colombia in 2001 who won the tournament without conceding a goal. If they do lift the trophy on Sunday, then Argentina will have been knocked out by the eventual winner of the tournament for the last six major tournaments, dating back to 2011.
Brazil v Argentina – Formations
Alisson – Alves, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Alex Sandro – Casemiro, Arthur – Everton, Coutinho, Jesus – Firmino
Head Coach: Tite
Armani – Foyth, Pezzella, Otamendi, Tagliafico – De Paul, Acuña, Paredes – Messi, Agüero, Martinez
Head Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Ralph Hannah is Londoner, who has lived in Luque and is now located in Miami, with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveller throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his two daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.