Brazil Thwarts Messi, Argentina to Reach Copa America Final

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Brazil Thwarts Messi, Argentina to Reach Copa America Final

Brazil is headed to the Copa America final, while Argentina heads back to the drawing board as its trophy drought continues.

Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino each assisted each other, as Brazil beat Argentina 2-0 Tuesday night at Estadio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte to clinch a place in the championship match.

The sworn enemies were both looking to vanquish some past ghosts in this semifinal. For host Brazil, it returned to the place of its most infamous defeat–a 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals–and emerged victorious to move onto the final. For Argentina, it was about quieting its throngs of critics and ending a trophy drought–one that extends back to 1993 and has always been the key talking point for anyone disputing Lionel Messi's place among the all-time greats. That won't change for at least another year, as Argentina looks for redemption in next summer's competition that it is co-hosting with Colombia.

With an injured Neymar watching in the luxury boxes and the Mineirão rocking at kickoff after Brazil's supporters extended the national anthem with an a cappella edition, the hosts looked to strike early. Firmino forced a second-minute save from a diving Franco Armani, though the offside flag would've nullified the strike had it gone in.

Brazil controlled possession in the opening 10 minutes, not letting Argentina create anything going forward, but La Albiceleste nearly opened the scoring in sensational fashion on their first opportunity. Leandro Paredes saw space from some 40 yards out and fired away with a curling blast, one that didn't miss Alisson's goal by much but whizzed over the bar 12 minutes in.

Brazil got back on the front foot after that, and following a spurned chance, Gabriel Jesus made sure to put the hosts ahead. It started with Dani Alves magic surging through the midfield, with the veteran fullback juking a defender before playing it wide right to Firmino. The Liverpool star crossed to his Man City countryman, who finished with a first-time touch from close range in the 19th minute.

Argentina scrapped to get back into the game and nearly pulled level off a Messi free kick. Sergio Aguero's header off the looping set piece beat Alisson but hit off the front side of the cross bar, coming down well in front of the goal line, and Argentina couldn't act on the rebound to fire it home.

Messi, who has been self-critical about his play in Brazil thus far, started to come into the match a bit more after that, dipping into his bag of tricks to evade three Brazilian defenders on a sequence that ultimately fizzled out before troubling Alisson.

Argentina threatened Brazil within five minutes of the start of the second half. Aguero sent in a cross off the outside of his boot from the left, one that fell for Martinez. He turned a side-winding volley on net that forced Alisson into a diving save, one that did not yield a rebound and kept things at 1-0.

Argentina sent another warning shot two minutes later from Rodrigo De Paul. It came at the end of some fantastic combination play in the final third, with Aguero, Martinez and Messi all working in concert before the latter fed it wide right for De Paul, whose first-time powerful hit went wayward.

Brazil missed a chance to double its lead when Coutinho chipped high over the bar after a sumptuous Gabriel Jesus throughball split the Argentina defense and played the Barcelona star through in the 56th minute.

Action picked up on the other end as well, with Messi rattling the left post after volleying the ball to himself to strike after a blocked shot had fallen into his path.

Messi had another chance in the 67th minute after drawing a foul just outside the Brazil box. He lined up for the free kick and tried to beat Alisson to the upper left-hand corner–the same place he beat the Liverpool goalkeeper in Barcelona's Champions League first-leg win over the Reds earlier this year. Alisson read it all the way, though, leaping to the spot and making a sure-handed catch to keep Messi's kick out.

Brazil punished Argentina for its inability to pull even by doubling its lead in the 71st minute. Gabriel Jesus embarked on a run from the midfield line, shrugging off the challenges of multiple Argentina defenders, drawing Armani off his line and feeding Firmino for the simplest of finishes, and the Liverpool star obliged to make it 2-0 and finish off his opponent.

The win marked the fifth straight clean sheet for Alisson in the competition, a streak he'll look to extend to six in Sunday's final against either Chile or Peru at the famed Maracanã.

By reaching the final, Brazil will get the chance to play for a ninth title, which would keep the Seleção trailing Uruguay (15) and Argentina (14) as the most successful teams in the competition's history. Brazil hasn't won Copa America since the last time it reached the final, when it beat Argentina in 2007.

Source: Sports Illustrated