Minas Gerias, July 1: Lionel Messi continues his bid to end a career-long wait for major international silverware with Argentina, but Brazil stand in his way at the Copa America.
Messi has acknowledged his form has yet to peak at this year's tournament, Argentina's captain scoring only once in four games to date – a strike that came from the penalty spot.
With Argentina having lost each of the past two Copa America finals to Chile on spot-kicks, Messi will be determined to right that wrong in Brazil, though he failed to convert a strong personal desire for 2018-19 Champions League success into glory for Barcelona.
"He's playing well, for me, he's doing things right, he's not just scoring goals, which is what he usually does," Angel Di Maria said to Diario Ole. "He's running, giving everything, that's very important. He knows more than anyone that in the Copa America you have to run and think of others."
Having seemingly hit their stride in a 5-0 demolition of Peru, Brazil then needed penalties to knock out a stubborn Paraguay in the quarter-finals. They have drawn a blank in two of their past three Copa games.
Like Messi, Brazil are desperate for international success with a ninth Copa triumph likely to go some way to healing the still painful wounds from their 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany on home soil in the World Cup semi-finals five years ago.
Gremio winger Everton has sporadically impressed as a replacement for injured talisman Neymar, ruled out of the tournament by an ankle injury sustained in a friendly against Qatar, with Tite often fielding Gabriel Jesus from the right.
But failing to break down both Venezuela and Paraguay indicates a rethink may be required with Everton attacker Richarlison potentially an option to come into the front line after he recovered from a bout of mumps.
Midfield duo Arthur and Casemiro return from suspension but Fernandinho (knee) is a doubt and left-back Filipe Luis (thigh) may not be able to start for the hosts either.
Neither side head into Tuesday's clash in particularly good form but Brazil against Argentina, a fixture the Selecao have won four times in a row at the Copa America and arguably the biggest rivalry in international football, surely cannot fail to deliver drama.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brazil - Gabriel Jesus
Handed Manchester City's number nine shirt during the tournament, Jesus has yet to score his first Copa America goal but he could argue not being used as a central forward has affected his ability to find the net. Jesus did convert the winning penalty to down Paraguay in the last round, but another start on the right seems likely and he will have to find a way to make an impact from wide areas.
Argentina - Sergio Aguero
Jesus' City team-mate Aguero will not be shunted to the flank, but he has similarly been unable to show his typically prolific form in front of goal. A single strike against Asian Cup winners Qatar is not an impressive return for Aguero given he has Messi serving him and Inter striker Lautaro Martinez - who has been linked with a surprise switch to Barcelona - has outscored him by netting in successive matches.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Brazil have never lost a competitive game at home against Argentina (W8 D2), and are unbeaten in their last seven meetings with their rivals in all competitions (W6 D1). - Argentina have made it through to the final each of the last five times they reached the Copa America semis; indeed, they only failed to progress from the last four in 1987, when they lost 1-0 at home against Uruguay. - Brazil have attempted the most (84) and have faced the fewest (24) shots so far in the 2019 Copa America – they have only faced five shots on target. - Philippe Coutinho has been involved in the most shots so far in the 2019 Copa America: 29 (16 attempts and 13 chances created) – at least 12 more than any other Brazilian or Argentinian player (Roberto Firmino, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi all on 17). - Brazil have made it through to the final in each of the last six occasions they reached the Copa America semi-finals; the last time they failed to progress from this stage was in 1979, against Paraguay (two legs).