Messi, Argentina beat Brazil to win Copa America, first int’l trophy of career

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At long last, Lionel Messi has won a major international trophy after Argentina bested Brazil 1-0 in a riveting, rough-and-tumble final at the 2021 Copa America on Saturday.

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After doing much of the heavy lifting through the group stage and earlier knockout rounds (4 goals and five assists, making him the top performer in each category at this year’s Copa America), Messi got a little help from his friends in a cup final. Messi came up short while performing virtually on his own in three of his four previous final defeats, but on Saturday Angel di Maria stepped into the void when Messi had a rather pedestrian (by his own standard) outing against Brazil.

The opening 15 minutes would be undersold if described as chippy, with reckless tackles flying in from both sides. Gonzalo Montiel’s ankle appeared to be bleeding through his sock after an early studs-to-the-shin tackle from Fred, Lucas Paqueta’s sock was torn by a late challenge, and the left leg was Neymar’s shorts was ripped nearly in half. Again, all in the first quarter-hour.

Di Maria opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, courtesy of a massive blunder by Renan Lodi. The long ball from Rodrigo De Paul appeared to be routine for a defender of international caliber, but Lodi completely whiffed on the attempted interception and Di Maria was more than ready to pounce. Ederson was quick off his line to close down the angles, so Di Maria opted for the casual lob from 15 yards out.

Messi’s first meaningful involvement nearly resulted in a second goal for Argentina in the 33rd minute, but Argentina’s superstar went inches wide with a bouncing strike from the edge of the box after weaving his way past a pair of defenders.

21 fouls in the first half, including 12 in the first 17 minutes.

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After a shockingly quiet first half without a truly dangerous scoring chance, Brazil emerged from the intermission on the front foot and with a sense or urgency. Richarlison put the ball in the back of the net in the 53rd minute, but the assistant referee rightly flagged that he was a half-yard offside during the build-up.

Not even a minute later, Richarlison was again the danger man who forced Emiliano Martinez to make a fantastic reaction save from close range.

From there, Brazil grew more desperate by the minute, thus turning the Copa America final into a wide open, end-to-end track meet only snuffed out by some heroic emergency defending at both ends of the field. There was also more violence committed one of the great hatchet men of his generation.

Martinez came up with another key save in the 87th minute after Neymar’s corner kick was flicked on to Gabriel Barbosa at the far post. Barbosa did ever so well to rise high and get his foot over the ball and hammer it right at Martinez.

Seconds later, down the other end of the field, Messi had the chance to put the game away as De Paul slotted him in behind Brazil’s defense, but he was caught between two minds of firing for the far post and rounding Ederson. In the end, he did neither as Ederson scooped the ball off his foot.

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