Brazil vs Argentina preview: Pressure on great rivals in Copa America semi-final
Brazil face Argentina in the Copa America semi-final in the early hours of Wednesday morning; Peru vs Paraguay in other semi-final
Last Updated: 02/07/19 1:29pm
Great rivals Brazil and Argentina are under pressure to exorcise their demons as they go head to head in the Copa America semi-final in Belo Horizonte in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
For hosts Brazil, a major semi-final at Estadio Mineiro brings back horrible memories. That 7-1 thrashing by Germany at the 2014 World Cup may never be forgotten, but a win over their vicious rivals will go some way to making up for it.
For Argentina, the ghost has lived for far longer. Lionel Messi is still waiting to lift a trophy in the famous white and blue, and the team itself have gone 26 years without silverware, last winning the Copa in 1993.
Here, we preview Wednesday's huge clash, with Peru or Paraguay waiting in the final on Sunday evening.
Brazil coach Tite doesn't like to make changes, meaning his team could stick to the 4-1-3-1 formation they have used for most of the tournament, with Everton, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in the three behind Gabriel Jesus. Tite could be forced to replace left-back Filipe Luis, who is recovering from thigh pains, with Alex Sandro.
Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni has made changes to his inexperienced team for every Copa Amrica match, and is under pressure to be more conservative against Brazil by mixing up offensive trio Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero; Martinez could be replaced by Angel di Maria or Giovani Lo Celso.
Brazil and Argentina's Copa America campaigns have been far from impressive. The hosts have two victories and two draws, advancing to the semi-finals only after a penalty shootout win against Paraguay following a goalless draw.
Incredibly, the team was jeered by fans in three of the four matches.
Argentina comfortably beat Venezuela 2-0 in the quarters in their best performance so far, but made hard work of the group stage, with one win, one draw and one defeat.
Recent history makes Brazil slight favourites for the clash. They have already successfully returned to the Mineiro Stadium, though not on such a big stage, beating Argentina 3-0 in a World Cup Qualifier in November 2016.
Since then, Tite has kept his job, while Argentina have had three coaches; Edgardo Bauza, Jorge Sampaoli, and Scaloni.
Messi: Time to shine, or change of role?
Messi, who is yet to hit top gear in the tournament, has also struggled in most of the international Superclasicos. In nine matches against Brazil Messi has lost five and won three, and those victories came in friendlies against below-strength Brazil sides.
One of those wins saw Messi hit a memorable hat-trick in a 4-3 win in USA in July 2012, but when it matters, Messi has been quashed by Brazil.
But the 32-year-old has agreed to sacrifice his usual buccaneering style of play for the greater good of his team, Scaloni said ahead of the semi-final.
"We are used to seeing him score three goals in every game and dribble past five players, but we are asking him to do something different and we are more than happy with the job he is doing," Scaloni told a news conference on Monday. "He has embraced the work load, he is our flagbearer."
Messi threatened to quit the Argentina team after losing the 2016 Copa America final to Chile on penalties and took a break after the 2018 World Cup before returning to the side in March.
Messi's major tournament record with Argentina
- 2006 World Cup - quarter-finals
- 2007 Copa America - runners-up
- 2010 World Cup - quarter-finals
- 2011 Copa America - quarter-finals
- 2014 World Cup - runners-up
- 2015 Copa America - runners-up
- 2016 Copa America - runners-up
- 2018 World Cup - last 16
Scaloni said his presence has reinvigorated the rest of the squad.
"The players love Messi so much that sometimes they say they want to win the tournament just for him. The best player in football's history is lacking a trophy with Argentina, but we all want to win, not just him."
Is Brazil's home really an advantage?
For Brazil and Tite, a title would mean stability after a frustrating 2018 World Cup.
But they crumbled emphatically under home pressure in 2014, and Tite himself admits he won't have slept ahead of the game, such are the nerves.
"I am feeling a lot of anticipation, I couldn't sleep and I won't sleep again," Tite said in a media conference on Monday. "I woke up at 3.15am, started thinking about the match. I have the habit of taking notes, so I did it. That is the reality of coaches, me, Scaloni."
For Tite, neither of Brazil's last two games in Belo Horizonte should have a bearing on this one.
"That win [against Argentina in 2016] doesn't give us credit now and that defeat [against Germany in 2014] we had here doesn't affect. What matters is the moment. But the anticipation I felt then is the same I feel now."