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Lionel Messi, Argentina Beat Neymar, Brazil 1-0 to Win 2021 Copa America Final

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 11, 2021

Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

The wait is over for Lionel Messi.

One of the greatest players in history is now a Copa America champion after Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 in the 2021 tournament's final Saturday at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

B/R Football @brfootball

ARGENTINA WIN COPA AMERICA! 🏆 <a href="https://t.co/defiYTZMDm">pic.twitter.com/defiYTZMDm</a>

Although he helped Argentina win gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics, the absence of a major title with the national team has been an albatross hanging around Messi's neck for years.

The window is closing for the 34-year-old to capture an elusive World Cup triumph, but he can add one more achievement to his lengthy resume.

Angel Di Maria had a somewhat quiet Copa America entering the final. He had one assist, and three of his five appearances came as a substitute.

The 33-year-old hadn't scored for his national team since the round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup, either. In short, he made for an unlikely candidate to give La Albiceleste a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute.

Di Maria capitalized on a mistake by Renan Lodi to chip the ball over Ederson.

B/R Football @brfootball

ANGEL DI MARIA. ARGENTINA LEAD. <br><br>That ball from Rodrigo De Paul 🤯<br><br>(🎥: <a href="https://twitter.com/FOXSoccer?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FOXSoccer</a>)<a href="https://t.co/MMMcXHj78r">pic.twitter.com/MMMcXHj78r</a>

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Javier Mascherano @Mascherano

ANGEL DE MI VIDAAAA

Brazil didn't have to play from behind much in the tournament. It surrendered two goals in four group-stage matches and held Chile and Peru scoreless in the previous two rounds.

With a front three of Richarlison, Neymar and Everton, the Selecao certainly possessed plenty of attacking verve up front. Di Maria's goal, however, did draw attention to one of their issues at the back.

Rupert Fryer @Rupert_Fryer

Individual error from Renan Lodi, who should have cut that out with ease, but also a huge space between him and Thiago Silva there; bigger than it was even with Marcelo. Awful goal to give away, Tite will be furious.

Rupert Fryer @Rupert_Fryer

If you’re wondering why Thiago Silva looks so much more exposed for Brazil than in Europe, it’s because he is. The game is slower, but nowhere near as compact. It’s constantly stretched and much more often leaves greater spaces for one vs one duels.

Sensing the need to push forward, Tite brought Roberto Firmino on for Fred to start the second half. That gave Brazil another dynamic option in the final third.

The linesman denied Richarlison an equalizer in the 52nd minute, a decision that was proved correct by subsequent replays. The Everton star found himself in a great position to score again two minutes later, only for Emiliano Martinez to deny his close-range effort.

FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer

Emiliano Martínez comes up with a HUGE save to keep Argentina on top 🧤😤 <a href="https://t.co/yzqQt2fT8v">pic.twitter.com/yzqQt2fT8v</a>

Despite needing to score and having the players to do so, Brazil largely flattered to deceive in the second half. Tite's side enjoyed possession for long stretches but couldn't find the breakthrough.

Argentina didn't make things easy as it successfully mucked up the match with its physicality and willingness to embellish any contact from Brazilian players. Nicolas Otamendi earned a yellow card in the 81st minute for a particularly rough challenge on Neymar.

FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer

Otamendi came in strong on Neymar 😳 <a href="https://t.co/KgzNj9r8qF">pic.twitter.com/KgzNj9r8qF</a>

It was the kind of performance that will have made World Cup-winning manager Carlos Bilardo proud.

The last 10 minutes passed at a frenetic pace.

Gabriel saw his left-footed shot knocked away by Martinez in the 87th minute to cap off a brief flurry from Brazil.

In the 88th minute, Messi looked poised to double Argentina's lead but lost control as he faked a shot and attempted to roll the ball to his right. It encapsulated a quiet night from the Barcelona star, and the miss may have been a defining image of his international career if Argentina hadn't held on.

But the Argentines were victorious, and Messi's impact—or lack thereof—will likely be lost to history.

Perhaps he can write a truly storybook ending by guiding the country to a third World Cup title in 2022.

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