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Reactions as Messi’s Argentina defeat Brazil despite Neymar’s desperation

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Argentina ended their 28-year wait to lift the Copa America after Angel Di Maria’s first-half goal clinched a 1-0 victory over Brazil in Saturday’s final at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana.

Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) midfielder Di Maria, who was promoted to the starting line-up for the final match, coolly lobbed over Brazil goalkeeper Ederson for the 22nd-minute winner.

Argentina had been Copa runners-up at four of the past seven tournaments, losing to rivals Brazil in 2004 and 2007, but finally claimed the country’s 15th continental crown.

The triumph also marks Lionel Messi’s maiden piece of major silverware with Argentina, with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner dominant throughout the tournament.

He finished with most goals (four) and most assists (five).

In a physical encounter, Brazil superstar Neymar received plenty of attention while Messi was unable to exude his normal influence for La Albiceleste.

Brazil started the better but could only manage scuffed efforts on goal from Everton and Richarlison before Argentina struck against the run of play.

The outstanding Rodrigo De Paul’s hopeful ball forward eluded Selecao left-back Renan Lodi, allowing Di Maria in behind and he calmly poked over the onrushing Ederson.

Di Maria was a constant threat in the first half, with a left-foot effort blocked by Marquinhos before Messi flashed wide.

With the half-time injection of Roberto Firmino, Brazil pressed and thought they had equalised in the 52nd minute when Richarlison hit the back of the net.

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But he was offside in the lead-up.

The Everton forward tested Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez at his near post shortly after, with the Aston Villa man saving smartly.

Brazil substitute Gabriel Barbosa had a late volley brilliantly thwarted by Martinez, before an exhausted Messi spurned a golden opportunity to seal the win from De Paul’s through ball.

“Messi is, as I’ve always said, the best player I’ve ever seen play and he’s a great friend,” Neymar had said.

“But now we’re in a final, we’re rivals. I want to win and I really want to win this title, which will be my first Copa America.

“Messi has been looking for his first title with the national team for many years, and every time we [Brazil] are not present at the tournament, I cheered for him.

“That’s what I’ve been cheering for in the 2014 World Cup final, when he faced Germany.

“Now Brazil is in the dispute, so our friendship is on the line [laughs]. The respect between us in still great but only one can win.”

He added: “When you’re friends with someone, it’s hard to forget the friendship you have… but for example when you play video games with a friend, you want to beat him anyway. It’ll be the same thing on Saturday.”

Neymar also hit out on Instagram about Brazilian fans who have turned on the national team and opted to support rivals Argentina.

“I’m Brazilian with a lot of pride, with a lot of love. My dream was always to be in the Brazilian national team and hear the fans singing,” he wrote.

“I’ve never supported or will support against anything Brazil is competing for, whatever the sport or modelling contest.”

Brazil are chasing their 10th Copa title, while Argentina are looking to end their 28-year wait to add to their 14 continental crowns.

Argentina have won five games in a row, including their semi-final victory over Colombia, and are unbeaten across their past 19 games.

Brazil were undefeated in their past 13 games and have only conceded two goals at Copa America 2021.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni dedicated his team’s 1-0 victory over hosts Brazil in the Copa America final on Saturday to previous Albiceleste sides.

“This title is for the previous sides that tried to win it but couldn’t,” he said.

A first-half strike from Angel Di Maria was enough to hand Argentina their first major title since the 1993 Copa America.

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That was when Gabriel Batistuta guided them to victory over Mexico in the final.

Since then, the South American giants have been runners-up four times in the Copa America and once in the World Cup.

This included a harrowing period in the mid-2010s when they lost three finals in as many years.

“This trophy is also for the lads who tried to win it and couldn’t. That generation of footballers left a legacy,” said Scaloni.

The 43-year-old, himself a former defender for Argentina, played down his influence on the team’s fortunes since taking over as head coach in 2018.

In that time, Scaloni has rejuvenated the squad with youth while bringing out the best in veterans Angel Di Maria, Nicolas Otamendi and Lionel Messi.

“I’m convinced that whoever had been in my position would have done the same,” Scaloni said.

“These guys give their maximum every time they go out to play. We achieved what we have because we’ve been able to be ourselves.

“It’s a difficult competition to win and it’s important to understand what it means to wear this shirt.”

Scaloni heaped praise on Messi, saying the 34-year-old confirmed his status as the world’s best player with four goals and five assists, in spite of carrying an unspecified injury.

Now the Albiceleste will turn their focus to the South American zone qualifiers for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

“Hopefully, we can continue to play like this and qualify for the World Cup.”

Brazil defender Thiago Silva said Argentina deserve being Copa America champions after the Albiceleste’s 1-0 victory over the tournament hosts in Saturday’s final.

“We have to congratulate our opponents,” Silva told local television after the match at the Maracana Stadium.

“Argentina neutralised our players and it was very difficult to come back after going a goal down.”

The 36-year-old added: “We weren’t able to play the way we wanted to in the first half and in the second they defended very well. We tried our best but things didn’t go our way.”

Angel Di Maria was the hero for Argentina with a deft 22nd-minute chip-over goalkeeper Ederson after Renan Lodi’s botched attempt to intercept a raking Rodrigo De Paul pass.

In spite of stumbling at the final hurdle here, Silva insisted Brazil would not be discouraged by the result.

“Overall, I think we had a good campaign. We have to hold our heads up high and we should still be proud of the runners-up medal. That’s football and we have to deal with it.”

The result broke a 13-match unbeaten run for Tite’s men and gave Argentina their first major title since 1993.

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