UNDEFEATABLE BRAZIL BOOK A MATCH FINAL WITH ARGENTINA
As expected, Brazil started the game with supreme confidence, dominating possession and providing eye-catching passing moves in and around Peru’s penalty area. The best chance of a one-sided opening half-hour saw Pedro Gallese produce a double save 20 minutes in. Showing immense reflexes, he firstly denied Neymar from six yards out, before leaping back to block an instinctive rebound from the unrelenting Richarlison.
With no let-up from the hosts, it was only a matter of time before they found a breakthrough, and the accolade of drawing first blood fell to Paquetá in the 35th minute, with the midfield dynamo bagging a second goal in two games. Yet, it was Neymar who provided the real moment of magic, drawing four defenders out to him before squaring it across to Paquetá for a simple tap-in.
Peru manager Ricardo Gareca made two essential changes at HT. The Argentinian opted for a more attacking formation, reverting to a back four instead of a five. This change gave Peru a new lease of life, with good chances falling to Gianluca Lapadula and substitute Raziel Garcia within the first ten minutes of the restart.
Despite this minor shift in momentum, the ‘Seleção’ marginally had the better of play in the second period, but fashioned precious few chances to extend their lead. Regardless, there was always the sense that Paquetá’s goal would be enough, and despite failing to reach the same heights of their first-half dominance, Brazil were full value for their victory and will take to their second successive Maracanã-held final with confidence.
With this result, Brazil manager Tite has now equalled Mário Zagallo’s record for Copa games unbeaten. In addition, Brazil are now just one win away from a sixth title in six Copa stagings held solely on home turf - and a first successful title defence in this competition since 2007.
Argentina started the game furiously and it took only three minutes for the mercurial Lionel Messi to warn his opponents, beating three men before whipping in a cross that Lautaro Martínez headed wide. Martínez would not be denied minutes later though, when Messi expertly turned a defender in the box, rolling the ball off for the forward to smash home.
Colombian midfielder Juan Cuadrado then forced Emiliano Martínez into a smart save just seconds later, before the half descended into a slow-paced, stop-start affair in which both sides struggled for rhythm. Although ‘Los Cafeteros’ will feel extremely unfortunate not to have levelled the tie on 37 minutes, after striking the woodwork twice in a matter of seconds.
They did find their goal in the 61st minute. Catching the Argentine defence napping with a quick freekick, which Luis Díaz sensationally finished, flicking the ball over the oncoming goalkeeper from an almost unbelievably tight angle. Later, Martínez inexplicably fluffed his lines when presented with an open goal, striking his effort against the onrushing defender. Messi then smashed the post 10 minutes before time but couldn’t prevent the game going to a shootout.
However, Emiliano Martínez became the unlikely hero, pulling off a string of fantastic penalty saves to ensure his side's appearance in the cup final. Tantalisingly, Argentina last lost a game in 2019, in a Copa América semi-final against Brazil, providing them with an added incentive to beat their rivals and claim cup glory ahead of Sunday’s final.