Europe may be waiting for England against Italy in Sunday’s Euro 2020 centerpiece, but there is an even bigger game to look forward to in South America as an older rivalry between the two Most successful teams debut in the Copa America final on Saturday.
Brazil against Argentina is a real clasico.
The teams first met in 1914 and in the years that followed they established themselves as two of the most legendary teams in world football.
Together they have won seven World Cups.
Both teams have passed their rivals head and shoulders in this year’s Copa America and Neymar and Lionel Messi have the two best players in the tournament.
Argentina are undefeated in 19 games before the clash at the Maracana Stadium, while host and defending champions Brazil have not lost since Argentina defeated them in a friendly in November 2019.
This year’s final is particularly interesting because of the timing, in terms of organization and staff.
The tournament was scheduled to take place in Colombia and Argentina, but Brazil took over at the last minute due to unrest in Colombia and a wave of COVID-19 in Argentina.
It’s also another tournament where Argentina – and more specifically Messi – are looking to end a long trophy drought.
They haven’t won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 1993 and Messi has never won silverware with the national team.
Brazil are small favorites and not just because they are at home and have a slightly better record so far in the tournament. They also have a reputation for beating Argentina in crunch matches.
The two teams have met four times in the final, three in the Copa America and one in the Confederations Cup – in 2005.
Argentina beat Brazil in the Copa America opener in 1937, but haven’t done so in a flagship game since.
Brazil won the Copa America final in Peru in 2004 and again in Venezuela in 2007, when they passed a fanciful side that contained a young Messi in their first international final.
A major controversy took place before the final.
Famous Brazilian sports journalist Fabiola Andrade posted a photo of herself wearing Argentina’s jersey, saying she would support Argentina instead of Brazil because Messi deserves a title.
This generated huge discussions involving celebrities, politicians and gamers, with Neymar using profanity against “whoever applauds”.
But other than that, the mood in general has been in contempt for the tournament.
Brazil has reported more than 19 million cases of the coronavirus, including more than 531,600 deaths, with the second highest number being the United States.
Maracana opens for fans
On Sunday, up to 7,800 people will be allowed to enter the Maracana with a capacity of 78,000 places for the final.
That would make it the first game of the 2021 Copa America, South America’s biggest international soccer tournament, with fans in the stands.
Those who wish to attend must arrive with a negative coronavirus test taken no earlier than 48 hours. Once inside, they will be required to respect social distancing.
More than 29,000 people have died from the coronavirus in Rio alone. The city’s death rate from the virus is 432 per 100,000 residents, nearly double the nationwide figure of 252 / 100,000.
“I am not supporting the organization of the tournament and I never will,” 36-year-old Brazilian Paulo Leierer told Al Jazeera.
” This is unacceptable [given the COVID situation]. The Copa America has not helped eliminate the COVID problems. What helps allay concerns is economic stability.
“I love football but haven’t really followed the national team for a while because it was used for politics by a candidate who attacks democracy, I lost interest.”
That moment when Brazil finally won Olympic gold in front of a raving crowd at the Maracanã stadium. Can they win again tonight in the #CopaAmerica final? 🇧🇷# Stronger together pic.twitter.com/K7BrGWkMXf
– Olympic Games (@Olympics) July 10, 2021
Brazilian far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose much-criticized management of the pandemic is the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, strongly supported the organization of the event.
The preparation for the final gained a little more traction and interest.
Viewing ratings for matches on public television were very low, losing viewers not only to euros, but to other regular broadcasts as well.
“I do not support the tournament that is taking place in Brazil because of the health scenario we find ourselves in with the pandemic,” Isabelle Jungton, 28, told Al Jazeera.
“Such an important event in Brazil at the moment makes the situation much more chaotic. Football will not take away the biggest worry that is the pandemic. I support the Brazil team but it’s really irrelevant at the moment.
Despite the outcry, not everyone in Brazil is against the current tournament.
“I support the tournament. Football was already taking place at the national level with very strict health and safety protocols, and the infrastructure in Brazil was ready for the event. This debate on whether or not to organize the tournament is only political, ”Alex Roberto Arno, 56, told Al Jazeera.
“It is definitely not at the same level as the Euro. The quality is also not what you see in Euros, but I support Brazil and I think they will win.
Additional reporting by Chris Goldenbaum in Sao Paulo.