Brazil vs Argentina final, more than just Neymar vs Messi

Rio de Janeiro, Jul 09 (AP): A contest between Neymar and Lionel Messi is how many fans perceive the Copa America final between Brazil and Argentina.
The players themselves, though, see the bigger challenge on Saturday at Maracana Stadium will be between one of the toughest defensive lines to break in world soccer and the protection around one of the best players in history.
With a dash of pepper off the pitch to spice up the rivalry.
Neymar’s Brazil lineup has conceded only two goals in six matches at the Copa America. Veteran Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and der Milit o are taking shifts as starters without putting the Selecao under too much if any risk. Defensive midfielders Casemiro and Fred are relentless. Right-back Danilo and left-back Renan Lodi are keener to defend than go running up front. These players initially criticized the South American soccer confederation for shifting the continental tournament to Brazil in emergency mode. Before the final against Messi’s Argentina, they’ve changed their narrative to winning at all costs. And keeping a clean sheet. “The zone where Messi plays is where I play, we face each other a lot during matches,” Casemiro told a news conference on Thursday.
“I can’t mark any player by myself, you need teammates. And you don’t mark only one player.
“It starts with Neymar, Richarlison and it ends in the goalkeeper a team plays with 11, defends with 11 and attacks with 11.”
Meanwhile, Argentina has found a formula to try protect Messi, who now at age 34 plays much closer to the final third of the pitch. Midfielders Rodrigo de Paul and Giovani Lo Celso, notably creative players, are selflessly adding to a barrier around Messi. Although they still manage to give good passes to aggressive wingers Lautaro Martinez and Nico Gonzalez. Messi has scored four goals and given five assists during this edition of Copa America. Before the tournament, he said it was his dream to win his first major title with Argentina, which hasn’t won major trophies in 28 years. He is playing Barcelona-style for his national team, scoring from free kicks, dazzling adversaries with frequent runs despite his age and giving plenty of passes.
“Messi is one step ahead of all of us,” De Paul said before the penalty shootout win against Colombia in the semifinals.
“One is here to grow, to help. We are all on the same path. What matters is to win and represent Argentina well.”
The strengths of Brazil and Argentina also belie some of their weaknesses.

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