RIO DE JANEIRO — Europe might be waiting for England against Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 showpiece, but there is an even bigger match to look forward to in South America as an older rivalry between two more successful teams kicks off in Saturday's Copa América final.
Brazil against Argentina is a true clasico. The teams first met in 1914 and in the years since have established themselves as two of the most storied sides in world soccer. Together they have won seven World Cups.
The two teams have been head and shoulders above their rivals in this year’s Copa América and in Neymar and Lionel Messi have been the tournament’s two standout performers.
Argentina is unbeaten in 19 games going into the showdown at the Maracana stadium, while Brazil, the host and reigning champion, has not lost since Argentina beat it in a November 2019 friendly.
“Whether we like it or not they have the best player in the world (Messi),” said Brazil forward Richarlison.
“So that creates a certain rivalry. We know how difficult it is to beat Argentina, not just now but in the past as well, and we know how difficult it will be at the Maracana.”
This year’s final is especially interesting because of the timing, in terms of organization and personnel.
The Copa was supposed to be held in Colombia and Argentina, but Brazil took over at the last minute due to unrest in Colombia and a COVID-19 surge in Argentina.
That annoyed Argentina, who were counting on home advantage after Brazil hosted the last tournament two years ago — when they beat Argentina 2-0 in a semifinal in which controversial refereeing decisions fell in favor of the host nation.
It is also another tournament where Argentina — and more notably Messi — are seeking to end a long trophy drought. They have not won a major title since lifting the Copa América in 1993 and Messi has never won silverware with the senior national side.
Brazil is a narrow favorite and not just because it is at home and has a slightly better record so far in the tournament. They also have a reputation for beating Argentina in crunch games.
The two sides have met four times in finals, three in the Copa América and one in the Confederations Cup — in 2005. Argentina beat Brazil in the Copa América’s forerunner in 1937 but has not done so in a showpiece match since.
Brazil won in 2004 in the Copa América final in Peru and again in Venezuela in 2007, when they overran a fancied side that contained a young Messi in his first international final.
The headlines before Saturday’s clash will speak of Messi’s search for a first title but the same is true for Neymar.
The Brazilian won the Confederations Cup in 2013 and, like Messi, he has an Olympic gold medal. But he missed the 2019 Copa América triumph through injury.
He does at least have a superb record at the Maracana.
“Films go through my head of all the glories and happy days I’ve had there,” said the Paris St. Germain forward. “I’ve never lost there, and I hope that doesn’t change.”
(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Ken Ferris)