BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Brazil without Neymar has proved to be better than Argentina with Lionel Messi.
In a performance that ended with “olé” chants from the crowd, Brazil beat Argentina 2-0 on Tuesday and will play Sunday’s Copa América final at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro seeking its 10th South American title.
Superstar Messi, meanwhile, remains without trophies for his national team despite showing his best performance in the tournament at the Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte.
Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring at 19 minutes after a samba-style play from right-back Dani Alves. It was the striker’s first goal in the tournament.
Roberto Firmino added the second at 71 minutes assisted by Jesus in front of 56,000 fans that sang chants on Messi’s lack of trophies with Argentina and Diego Maradona’s drug problems to celebrate.
Brazil’s opponent will be determined on Wednesday when defending champions Chile take on underdogs Peru at the Arena do Grêmio in Porto Alegre.
Wearing a flamboyant golden jacket, striker Neymar, who left the squad shortly before Copa América because of a right ankle injury, celebrated Brazil’s victory with friends and with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in the stadium’s corporate boxes.
For the first time since Copa América began, Argentina repeated its starting lineup of the previous 2-0 win over Venezuela, keeping its up-front trio with Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Lautaro Martínez. But the approach against Brazil was clearly different, with the team sitting back and preparing for counters.
Brazil had two changes to face its archrivals, with midfielder Casemiro returning from suspension in Allan’s place and Alex Sandro substituting injured Filipe Luis in the left-back.
Still, Argentina still was first to get an opportunity to open the scoring. At 12 minutes, Leandro Paredes fired from long distance and the ball flew close to Alisson’s bar.
That did not intimidate Brazil. On the first goal, Alves flicked the ball over Marcos Acuña, left Paredes behind and passed to Firmino on the right flank. With a low cross, he allowed Jesus to score only meters away from goalkeeper Franco Armani.
The visitors nearly leveled at 30 minutes, when Messi took a free kick and Agüero headed the ball onto the bar. Brazil’s defense cleared and avoided conceding its first goal in five Copa América matches.
After the break Brazil took extra precautions by substituting winger Éverton for midfielder Willian. But that did not stop Messi and Argentina.
At 57 minutes, Messi hit Alisson’s right post from close range. He also got the rebound, crossed the ball into the penalty box, but no Argentinian was near enough to push it to the net.
To keep the pressure on the Brazilians, coach Lionel Scaloni substituted midfielder Acuña for winger Ángel di María. But a counter at 71 minutes punished his audacity.
Jesus stole the ball in his half of the field and bulldozed through Argentina’s left flank. Facing Armani, he gently assisted Firmino to score the final goal.
“They were more efficient, we had our chances and could not score,” said Argentina defender Nicolás Tagliafico. “We played well for some time, badly for some time.”
His coach disagrees: “By merit, the team that should have advanced to the final was Argentina,” Scaloni said.
The coach also complained about the refereeing in Firmino’s goal, insisting his team had heard a whistle in the beginning of Jesus’ move.
At the end of the match, Argentina’s Paredes wept sitting on the pitch as Messi once again looked distraught.
The Brazilians celebrated with moderation after a match that could have a different ending if Argentina had found the net instead of the posts on two occasions.
The match at the Mineirão was once again marked by homophobic chants of the Brazilian fans when Armani took his goal kicks.
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