Lionel Messi has the chance to win his first major tournament with Argentina when they meet Brazil in the final of Copa America in Rio on Saturday.
Messi, 34, has won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues during a trophy-laden career at Barcelona.
But the six-time Ballon d’Or winner’s only success with the senior Argentina team is at the 2008 Olympics in China.
“We’ll try to stop him from achieving this objective,” said Brazil defender Marquinhos.
The 2021 Copa America is Messi’s 10th major tournament with Argentina – comprised of four World Cups and six editions of the competition to determine the champions of South America.
They have not won a top-level tournament since the 1993 Copa America, and defending champions Brazil stand in their way this time.
Messi, who is out of contract at Barcelona, has scored four times already in the tournament.
Brazil’s Neymar, a former team-mate of Messi’s at Barca, is also looking to seal a first major success with his country in the first Argentina-Brazil Copa America final since 2007.
“We’re going to play a final against our eternal rivals, the lifelong ones, the two most powerful national teams in South America and we hope it will be a great match,” said Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni.
A troubled build-up & no fans
This year’s Copa America, delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic, was scheduled to be the first in its 105-year history to be held in two nations – Colombia and Argentina.
However, the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) decided in May to move games away from Colombia after a wave of civil unrest there.
It was then announced Argentina would no longer host the four-week tournament after the country saw Covid-19 cases grow quickly.
A last-minute decision to switch it to Brazil, which staged the 2019 edition, amid a surge in coronavirus cases was criticized by Brazil’s players.
All matches have been played without fans inside the grounds.
The final, originally scheduled to be held in the Colombian city of Barranquilla, will also take place without fans at the iconic Maracana stadium – scene of Argentina’s 1-0 defeat by Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.
What’s happened so far?
Ten countries were split into two groups of five, with the top four from each group advancing to the quarter-finals.
Hosts Brazil – third in Fifa’s world rankings – got the tournament underway with a 3-0 win against Venezuela in Brasilia.
Both Argentina and Brazil finished top of their respective groups. They were joined in the last eight by Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Two of the four quarter-finals were decided on penalties – Uruguay, the most successful side in the competition’s history, lost to Colombia, while 2019 runners-up Peru beat Paraguay.
Chile, the 2016 winners, included Blackburn Rovers forward Ben Brereton – he scored the winner in the 1-0 group victory over Bolivia to help his side reach the quarter-finals, where they lost 1-0 to Brazil.
In the semi-finals, Argentina needed penalties to get past Colombia, while Brazil beat Peru 1-0.
Will Argentina end a 28-year wait?
Argentina, eighth in Fifa’s world rankings, has lost four Copa America finals since they last won the competition in 1993.
However, they have the chance to draw level with Uruguay on 15 wins.
Paris St-Germain winger Angel di Maria, a bright spark when he came on in the semi-final against Colombia, has mostly started on the bench along with new Barcelona signing Sergio Aguero.
‘A final to make the world stand still’
Despite winning the 2019 edition, Brazil (with nine) is third in terms of Copa America triumphs.
They left the likes of Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino and Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior on the bench for their semi-final, while Manchester United’s Fred has been preferred to Liverpool’s Fabinho in midfield.
“Brazil versus Argentina is much more than a simple game of football,” added Marquinhos. “These jerseys make the world stand still to watch their games.”