Standing in the way as he tries to end his country’s 28-year-old trophy drought will be a familiar face to former Barcelona team-mate Neymar.
Brazil are the current defending champions and boast the formidable record of winning every previous edition played at home – this year’s tournament was also moved to Brazil just 13 days before kick-off after co-hosts Colombia and Argentina became deprived of host rights.
Few would expect an overwhelming Argentine side to go far at next year’s World Cup in Qatar, and Messi will be 37 next time the Copa America comes in 2024.
In the past, after some rather weak performances, he has been accused by some of worrying more about Barcelona than Argentina, something Messi has always strongly denied.
Over the years, however, he has become an honored figure in his homeland.
It was never more obvious than when Messi announced his retirement after the defeat in the 2016 Copa America final – the second year in a row that Argentina had lost to Chile on penalties – and the whole country united in a successful attempt to convince him to withdraw on the blue and white shirt again.
At times, Messi alone has completed the national team over the years, especially during the qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup, where Argentina flirted with the possibility of not reaching the final.
During the semi-final victory in the penalty shootout over Colombia, Messi – who has four goals and five assists in this Copa America – once again showed the type of leader he has become for Argentina.
National TV station TyC Sport featured a ‘Messi-Cam’ during the shootout, which was constantly focused on the Argentine captain. It showed his intense reaction to every penalty kick that Argentina scored, while also being the first to comfort Rodrigo De Paul after his miss.
However, it was his reaction to Yerry Mina’s miss that generated the biggest reaction on social media.
The Colombian defender has become known for his somewhat over the top celebration after scoring in shootouts, and after his penalty was saved by Emiliano Martinez, Messi could be seen shouting “dance now” at Mina throughout his walk back to the center circle.
Messi exhaustion was a stark contrast to the last time he played in a penalty shootout for Argentina. After missing his penalty kick in the final against Chile in 2016, Messi doubled down on the lawn and appeared to be close to vomiting.
Martinez was undoubtedly the hero of Wednesday’s draw and saved three of Colombia’s penalties, and the Aston Villa goalkeeper was bullied by Messi and his teammates.
Saturday’s showpiece will be the first time since 2007 that Brazil and Argentina meet in a Copa America final, incidentally Messi’s first with the national team.
Brazil are hoping for a repeat of the comfortable 3-0 victory and go into this match as the favorite.
Under head coach Tite, Brazil is far from playing the old ‘beautiful football’, but this side is pragmatic and pronounced, a style that has brought significant success over the last five years.
It culminated in victory at the Copa America in 2019, the country’s first major silverware event since 2007.
Brazil have never quite clicked in top gear during this tournament, but have found success built on a stingy defense; the team has conceded only two goals throughout the tournament and none so far in knockout stages.
Even when it was down to 10 men throughout the second half of the quarter-final against Chile, Brazil never looked to cash in on a goal.
Neymar’s legacy with the Brazilian national team is already guaranteed to be one of honor. Not only has he led the team to Olympic and Copa America glory at home, he will more than likely end his career as Brazil’s greatest goal scorer ever, currently just nine goals behind Pele.
Should Messi honor Argentina, however, it would certainly change his legacy completely.