Lionel Messi’s long wait for an international trophy is finally over, with Argentina defeating Brazil 1-0 in the Copa America final to fill in the biggest gap of his fabled career.
Angel Di Maria, starting for just the second time in the tournament, struck the decisive goal midway through the first half, latching onto a phenomenal low long pass from the impressive Rodrigo De Paul.
After Brazil failed to clear their lines, the PSG attacker cushioned the ball with a fabulous first touch off the outside of his left foot, before he lobbed the onrushing Ederson with a deft strike.
When the match ended, a tearful Messi dropped to his knees and was mobbed by his Argentina team-mates before heading over to the smattering of his country’s fans in the stadium to lead the celebrations. The 78,000-seater Maracana was operating at just 10 per cent capacity for the match due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Victory also snaps Argentina’s 28-year wait for a title, with their previous trophy coming in the 1993 Copa America.
Lionel Messi hoists the Copa America trophy aloft with his Argentina team-mates after they beat Brazil 1-0 in the final
Messi leads the celebrations after Argentina’s landmark Copa America win against Brazil at the Maracana stadium
When the final whistle was blown, a tearful Messi dropped to his knees as he finally got an international honour to his name
The legendary Argentina talisman was soon being thrown up into the air in celebration with his ecstatic team-mates
Brazil piled on the pressure in an exciting second half but even with five strikers on the field they could not get an equaliser against an Argentine defence protected by the outstanding De Paul.
Messi finished the tournament’s joint top goalscorer with four goals and collected his individual honour for player of the tournament before getting his hands on the trophy itself.
But in truth, he was quiet throughout the final and uncharacteristically missed a golden opportunity to wrap the game up with just two minutes remaining.
After being picked out by De Paul, Messi had the ball and the game at his feet in the six-yard area but appeared to lose his footing and Ederson promptly smothered the opening. Fortunately for him, Brazil were unable to make him pay despite five minutes of time added on at the end.
And while Messi was subdued, the same can be said for Brazil talisman Neymar, who was left in tears by the result at the final whistle. He was central to his team’s play but he and they struggled to break down a stern and stubborn Argentina defence.
With the game delicately poised late on, Messi spurned a golden chance to wrap the game up due to a poor first touch
Despite a subdued display by his electrifying standards, Messi was always given close attention by the Brazil defence
Angel Di Maria struck the decisive goal midway through the first half with a superb lob over onrushing goalkeeper Ederson
The Paris Saint-Germain star performs his trademark celebration after putting Argentina ahead thanks to his exquisite finish
Di Maria is mobbed by his Argentina team-mates at the Maracana, which was operating at 10 per cent capacity
After a tentative first half, Brazil coach Tite tried to change the dynamic of the match by replacing defensive midfielder Fred – who was booked in just the third minute of the game – for Roberto Firmino, and it certainly injected some impetus to their play.
Richarlison thought he had equalised shortly into the second period but his effort was correctly ruled out for offside.
But though the Selecao had more ball posession there were few real opportunities from then on. Gabriel Barbosa stung the palms of Emi Martinez late on, but it was a save the Argentina stopper would have been disappointed not to make.
The victory was Argentina’s 15th Copa America triumph and means they draw level with Uruguay as the all-time leading winners.
‘I can’t cry yet,’ Di Maria said after the match. ‘We dreamed of getting this, and we fought. Many people criticized us and asked us not to come back (to the national team).’
Their win extended their sequence of undefeated matches to 20 under Lionel Scaloni and handed Brazil their first competitive defeat since they lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup.
‘This is a very big title,’ Scaloni said. ‘I hope that Argentines can enjoy it. The fans love the team unconditionally and I think they identify with this side that never drops its guard.’
Brazil talisman Neymar was left in tears by the result as his wait for another international title with his country goes on
PSG forward Neymar swiftly removed his Copa America runner-up medal after the final whistle at the Maracana
Everton’s Richarlison thought he had equalised at one point for Brazil but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside
Victory also caps a remarkable comeback on the international scene for Messi. He was so upset at losing to Chile on penalties in the Copa America final of 2016, exactly as he had done a year before, that he retired from international football.
He changed his mind a few weeks later and helped drag an inconsistent Argentina to the World Cup finals in Russia where once again they crashed out to eventual champions France in the last 16.
Messi failed to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup for the fourth time in a row, raising even more questions about his place on the all-time greats list. But with this win, all those doubts have finally been erased once and for all.
RELIVE THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED BELOW
What a night for Argentina and Lionel Messi! He hoists the trophy aloft as the sky over the Maracana is lit up by fireworks. A 28-year wait is over for the nation and for Messi, the international honour he has craved his whole career is finally here.
That brings our coverage for the night to an end. Thanks for following!
Messi, shortly after being handed the player of the tournament gong, is now about the lay his hands on the real thing. He can hardly wait…
Di Maria gets man of the match, Martinez goalkeeper of the tournament… the trophy lift is moments away!
Only a smattering of Argentina fans in the Maracana, with the stadium operating at 10 per cent capacity due to Covid-19. But the ones that are there… what an occasion. The Argentina squad, led by Messi, give their appreciation.
He’s now being thrown into the air by his Argentina team-mates… who should go easy with him! He’s technically a free agent as it stands!
A tough one for Neymar, losing in the Maracana to fierce rivals Argentina. A bitter pill to swallow.
Is Messi screaming with joy? Is he in tears? It’s impossible to tell right now, he has been mobbed by his Argentina team-mates – including all the substitutes – as he is FINALLY an international winner with his country!
ARGENTINA WIN THE COPA AMERICA! LIONEL MESSI FINALLY WINS AN INTERNATIONAL TROPHY!
Argentina holding firm… they are nearly there
Five added minutes at the Maracana… do we have a late twist here?
What a miss! Another superb pass from De Paul sees Messi with the ball, and the game, at his feet from six yards out but a loose touch sees Ederson gather the ball! His side lead 1-0 and there is not long left at all – he will be praying that error doesn’t come back to haunt him.
Make no mistake, at this stage of the game and for a player of Messi’s stature, that is a sitter.
He hasn’t had much to do tonight but Aston Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez comes to the fore when called upon, tipping a fierce Barbosa half-volley over the bar. Argentina clear the corner. Three minutes plus added time to go, will Argentina hold on?
Five minutes plus stoppage time to find an equaliser and while Brazil are the team pushing forward, Argentina don’t look stretched at the moment. Brazil’s latest effort, a looping header from Thiago Silva, goes over.
Argentina getting more defensive with every minute. Brazil win a free-kick narrowly into the Argentina half and Neymar floats and inviting delivery in there, but Argentina clear.
Barbosa then has a shot deflected into the side netting and again, Argentina see the danger away from the resulting corner.
Has Rodriguez just brought Barbosa down in the area after a heavy touch? VAR is checking… but nothing is given.
Argentina make a triple change now – Di Maria, Romero and Martinez make way for Pezzella, Palacious and Gonzalez.
Lucas Paqueta is off for Barbosa while Lodi is replaced by Emerson
Both sides are going in on each other a little bit here and it will suit Argentina more than Brazil, who need to keep their heads and focus on attacking. There are 16 minutes left to go at the Maracana.
Great picture of the Brazil defence keeping the dangerman Messi quiet
Rodriguez blazes over from the edge of the area and Ederson is under no threat whatsoever. The last five minutes or so have seen Argentina get back into the game much more though after a lively start to the second half by Brazil.
It’s what we’ve been waiting to see – Messi running at the Brazil defence, going down the middle of the pitch and he twists and turns and comes in on his weaker right foot before going down just inside the area. The referee told him to get up and Messi had Di Maria to his right in space. He seemed to take the wrong option.
Vinicius Junior on for Brazil and replaces Everton, while Lo Celso goes off for Nicolas Tagliafico.
Argentina look like they are just starting to sit in a bit, while Brazil are pushing forward in the final third. That half-time sub by manager Tite, bringing Roberto Firmino on for Fred, has injected some impetus into their play that they didn’t have in the opening 45.
Brazil are getting their chances now and Richarlison is looking dangerous after a quiet first half. This time, he collects the ball inside the right side of the penalty area and lets fly, but Martinez is equal to it and beats the ball away.
Still 1-0 Argentina, but Argentina’s men have struggled to get a foothold in the second half.
Leandro Paredes, booked in the first half for fouling his PSG team-mate Neymr, is replaced in midfield by Rodriguez.
Richarlison was about half a yard offside as he latched onto a pass before converting at the second time of asking. Argentina’s lead remains in place.
Or is it? Flag goes up as Richarlison pokes home… VAR checking
The Tottenham man went in late on the halfway line there and is duly booked as Neymar eventually picks himself up.
Messi picks the ball up deep and drives forward, finding Di Maria down the right who this time, loses out to Casemiro at the second time of asking. That will be a fascinating duel in the second half though.
A big 45 coming up here and Brazil have made a change – Roberto Firmino has come on for Fred, who was booked in just the third minute of the game.
A very attacking change by Brazil manager Tite.
Latching onto an extraordinary pass by Rodrigo de Paul, Di Maria cushioned the ball into his stride with the outside of his left boot and clipped the ball over Ederson to give Argentina the lead.
Argentina lead at the Maracana and deservedly so. But they’ve not been head and shoulders above Brazil, 1-0 is about right. Angel Di Maria’s superb lob in the 22nd minute the difference so far and he has looked the most dangerous attacker on the pitch so far, with Messi and Neymar pretty quiet so far.
It’s the first time he’s managed to get on the ball in the attacking third but Richarlison drifts down the right and drills a tantalising delivery across the six-yard box, which Montiel does well to head behind.
Richarlison then meets the resulting corner but his flick-on evades everybody and goes out for an Argentina goal kick.
The Brazil forward, putting in some hard yards in defence, gets hacked by Argentina’s Acuna several times as he tries to work an angle to clear. Eventually, he gets the foul but Richarlison looked far from happy with Acuna there.
And this doesn’t look good, Di Maria chasing after the ball and pulled up without being challenged by a Brazil defender. He tumbles down off the pitch and Argentina want play stopped while Brazil are eager kick-start proceedings against 10 men.
Di Maria receiving treatment, he didn’t look too comfortable there but eventually makes it back onto the pitch. One to watch for the next few minutes or so though.
It’s about 30 yards from goal, Neymar was fouled by his PSG team-mate Paredes who goes into the book.
Neymar takes the free-kick… but blasts it straight into the Argentina wall, which pretty much sums up the first 34 minutes for the team in yellow and blue.
Messi leads an Argentina counter-attack, skipping through the middle of the pitch with runners either side. Eventually, he drives low at goal from about 25 yards but it is narrowly wide. It looked like Ederson would have saved it had it been on target.
Brazil also need to find a way to snuff Di Maria out of the game because confidence is flowing through his veins. Here, he cuts in from the right and lets fly from the edge of the area with a venomous left-footed strike which is blocked by Thiago Silva. Brazil clear before Lautaro Martinez could pounce on the loose ball.
No need for Brazil to rush their response here, plenty of the game to go. But Neymar and Richarlison haven’t seen much of the ball yet and you feel that if they are to work their way back into the game here, those two need to have more possession.
Di Maria comes in from the right, latching onto a low through ball of about 50 yards and cushions the ball into his stride with the outside of his left foot before lofting the ball over the onrushing Ederson with a sumptuous finish. Wonderful play and a slick finish!
Di Maria fancies his chances against Fred and, probing down the right looked to spring around the Brazil man. But Fred held firm excellently, refusing to be sold by a Di Maria shimmy and then forcing him off the ball outside the area and clearing to safety.
But with Fred on a yellow card already, you can expect Di Maria to have another go before long.
Argentina play their way out from the back and Christian Romero was nearly caught out with a heavy touch in his own box with Neymar breathing down his neck. He scrambled and cleared and Di Maria and Messi linked up for the first time, but Brazil got the ball away.
A few more signs of life though.
Gritty stuff so far, both teams showing each other a bit of respect. Perhaps summed up best by this picture here of two old friends…
Yet to see much from either Messi or Neymar yet, plenty of fouls just interrupting any early rhythm. Possession is split 50-50 while Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is extremely vocal on the sidelines in the early exchanges.
Bit of a rash challenge from the Manchester United man there, following through on Gonzalo Montiel and he has picked up a yellow card in just the third minute. He looks incredulous at the referee’s decision but that was a tasty early challenge there. He’s going to be walking a tightrope for a long time, now.
Brazil get us going and Otamendi sends Everton of Brazil tumbling inside 30 seconds. Very much “laying an early marker” there…
And it is Brazil who will kick the final off but first, a minute silence is held to remember those who have lost their lives to Covid-19.
The anthems are being played after the players walked out to a smattering of cheers and fireworks. Kick-off is moments away at the Maracana…
Of course, beyond the story of Messi the country of Argentina themselves are looking to end a 28-year wait for a top-level international tournament. Not since 1993’s Copa America have they tasted international success.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. 28 years? Try 55! But now Argentina, like England, are one match away from the end of that barren spell.
The Villa goalkeeper was Argentina’s hero in the semi-final as they defeated Colombia on penalties to reach tonight’s final.
‘We have Emi, who is a phenomenon,’ said Messi, who converted from the spot himself in the shootout. ‘We trusted him. We achieved the goal of being able to play all the games and now we are going to the final.’
Fans are there tonight… but not in great numbers. 10 per cent of the 78,000 seats in Brazil’s Maracana will be filled tonight due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Argentina: Emi Martinez, Otamendi, Acuna, Montiel, Romero, De Paul, Paredes, Lo Celso, Messi, Di Maria, Lautaro Martinez.
Subs: Marchesin, Armani, Tagliafico, Pezzella, Molina, Lisandro Martinez, Gomez, Angel Correa, Rodriguez, Palacios, Aguero, Gonzalez.
Brazil: Ederson, Thiago Silva, Danilo, Marquinhos, Renan Lodi,
Casemiro, Fred, Everton, Lucas Paqueta, Richarlison, Neymar
Subs: Weverton, Alisson, Alex Sandro, Emerson, Leo Ortiz,
Eder Militao, Everton Ribeiro, Fabinho, Douglas Luiz, Firmino,
Gabriel Barbosa, Vinicius Junior.
It’s Messi’s old team-mate who leads the charge against him tonight in Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar, the golden boy of Brazilian football. 110 caps to his name, 68 goals and yet his only trophy on the international stage is the 2013 Confederations Cup.
For him, winning the Copa America in the Maracana, even in the Covid-19 era of limited fans, would be a major landmark for him.
Of course, the major talking point ahead of this is how Messi can finally win his first major international honour with Argentina at the age of 34. It is extraordinary that for all he has achieved in his career, silverware with his country has eluded him up to this point.
It is a massive game for how he will be remembered once his career has come to an end. Silverware tonight would be a massive achievement for him.
Not going to bed just yet, are you? It’s Argentina v Brazil, Messi v Neymar in the final of the Copa America! Come on, stay up for it. It’s going to be a thriller!
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Argentina vs Brazil – Copa America final: Live score, team news and updates
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