The list of storylines set to litter the field in Belo Horizonte Tuesday night reads like an unfurled medieval scroll.
Lionel Messi and his international goose egg is yet again put to the highest of tests. Brazil returns to the site of a painful memory, the stadium where the Selecao was pummeled by Germany in its own World Cup five short years ago. Star striker Sergio Aguero has just one international goal since last summer’s World Cup. Brazil’s brutal recent results in the Copa America are staggeringly disappointing, while Argentina’s dismal decade against Brazil makes for equally painful reading.
All the talking points come to a head as the two heavyweights go head-to-head in a headlining Copa America semifinal on Tuesday, with kickoff set for 8:30 p.m. ET.
The Copa America hosts have failed to reach the final – or even the semifinal, for that matter – since they last won the competition in 2007, a title which gave Brazil a second straight Copa America win and four of five. Since, they have two quarterfinal exits and a group stage flop, not much to boast about for a country that sees itself as a world soccer superpower.
Argentina, meanwhile, hasn’t beaten Brazil in a competitive match since way back in 2005 during World Cup qualification for the tournament in Germany that following year. They have since lost four and drawn two against their rivals, sandwiching a six-year gap without a competitive meeting between the two sides from 2009-2015.
Brazil will have much of the obvious pressure as hosts of the competition, but Argentina has plenty on the line as well. This competition could be one of Lionel Messi’s last chance for a major trophy with Argentina, with just the 2020 Copa America in Colombia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar reasonably remaining on the docket, as the next continental competition doesn’t come around again until 2024.
Still, the visitors have a personnel edge as Brazil must work around a growing collection of injuries. Most notably Neymar still finds himself sidelined for the foreseeable future, but that is only the beginning of Tite’s worries. Important midfielder Fernandinho isn’t expected to play thanks to a right knee injury that has seen him miss the last two matches, and defender Felipe Luis is also a doubt after picking up an injury in the win over Paraguay. Richarlison, who has been fantastic in his short international career, has missed the last two matches after contracting the mumps, and while he’s expected to be in the squad, he’s unlikely to start.
Argentina has not played well in the competition, but put forth its best performance last time out against Venezuela, finally looking more comfortable and mistake-free at the back than previously against the likes of Colombia and Paraguay who were happy to sit back and let the Albiceleste beat itself. Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni has slowly brought young players into the fold to rousing success, with Giovani Lo Celso finally utilized centrally, Lautaro Martinez scorching hot up front, and Juan Foyth the most recent positive addition at the back. The coaching staff has finally come to the realization that running out retreads like Angel di Maria or out-of-form attackers like Paulo Dybala brings little value to the side, and the young players deployed instead have proven hungry to bring Argentina back to the top in a competition they have not won since 1993.
Brazil, meanwhile, had looked its best in quite some time during the group stage, only to draw a blank against Paraguay, requiring penalties to advance after a 0-0 draw that featured 26 shots – eight of which hit the target but none found the back of the net. A rejuvinated Philippe Coutinho and new Champions League winner Roberto Firmino had looked strong until the Paraguay game, and the pair will need to return to form.
While this edition of the Copa America has been generally a dud through the quarterfinals, the semis present fans with a mouth-watering matchup to erase the earlier doldrums. It may not be an electric, high-scoring affair – these anticipated meetings between world giants rarely are – but should prove a tense, well balanced clash that will leave fans on the edge of their seats.