BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AFP) – Argentina forwards Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero will have to sweat if they’re going to break down Brazil’s watertight defence in their Copa America semi-final tomorrow (8.30am Brunei time), said Selecao striker Gabriel Jesus.
Hosts Brazil have yet to concede a goal in four matches at the Copa while Argentina have improved defensively and kept clean sheets in their last two matches.
Jesus expects a tight contest in Belo Horizonte and said Brazil’s defence won’t give Argentina’s forward line an inch.
“It’s tough to get behind a defence that doesn’t concede goals,” the Manchester City forward said of Argentina’s backline.
“It’s also a long time since we conceded a goal. It’s very important to have a solid defence.
“But it won’t be easy for Argentina to get behind us. Obviously they have Messi who is the best player in the world, and they have Aguero, one of the best centre-forwards, but they’re going to have to sweat to get in behind.”
Jesus said he was sure “Argentina will attack us” and he’s looking forward to joking around with his City teammates Aguero and centre-back Nicolas Otamendi, but only after the match.
What’s clear, though, is that this is the most keenly anticipated match on the continent, between the two regional giants.
Brazil are the most successful team in World Cup history with five titles to Argentina’s two, but at a continental level, the roles are reversed as Argentina have won the Copa 14 times compared to eight for Brazil.
Should Argentina win again, they would match Uruguay’s record of 15 titles.
“These are two giants, from countries with a lot of history,” said Jesus.
“We’re playing at home and we have more pressure to win, but it’s a ‘clasico’ against Argentina.”
These two sides’ defences have been on top so far but given the attacking talent that will be on show, a goalless draw would be unthinkable, even though there have been three already in the knock-out stages out of four matches.
Brazil will likely line up with Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino flanked by Jesus and the exciting Gremio forward Everton, a reported target for Manchester City.
Argentina are almost certainly sure to stick to the trio that played their last two matches – 2-0 victories over Qatar and Venezuela – with Lautaro Martinez joining Messi and Aguero.
But there is one name that most occupies the thoughts of Brazil centre-back Thiago Silva, and that’s Messi.
The Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) defender has painful memories of a Messi in full flow. He and Marquinhos, his centre-back partner for club and country, were torn apart in Barcelona’s famous 6-1 Champions League victory over PSG in 2017 that overturned a 4-0 first leg deficit.
Messi scored Barca’s third goal that day.
“Obviously no matter how much attention you pay it doesn’t count for much against the best player in the world,” said Silva.
“Whenever we play against him for the national team or in the Champions League, it’s difficult.
“No matter how much you study him, you’ll never be able to understand the difference he can make.
“In the decisive moments, you think he’ll do one thing, and he pulls out of his hat something that you never expected. That’s the difference.
“But now it’s Brazil against Argentina and we’ll try to defend our end and admire him some other day.”
The semi-final has got everyone excited for what will be the 106th official FIFA-recognised meeting between the two rivals.
Brazil lead the head-to-head record with 41 wins to 38 and 26 draws.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni wants his players to put aside that historic rivalry, and treat this simply as a major tournament semi-final with a final at stake for the winners.
“We need to play this, not like just another match, but like a Copa America semi-final, no matter who it’s against,” said Scaloni.
“We can’t think about playing our greatest rivals. That amplifies the legend.
“We’re going to try to impose our game and do what will give us an advantage,” he added.