The victory brought La Albiceleste’s trophy drought to a halt and guided them to their first major silverware since 1993.
Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in the Copa America 2021 final to end a trophy drought of 28 years and lift their first major title since 1993. Angel Di Maria’s goal in the 21st minute gave Argentina the lead. It was also the first time La Albiceleste scored in a Copa final since 2004. Lionel Scaloni’s men then defended with all their might to hold on to the lead and grasp the victory.
Argentina sat deep and played on the counter right from the start. They got their goal early and asked Brazil to chase the game. Tite’s men had come back from behind to win games earlier in the tournament. But in the final, they could not find ways to unlock Argentina’s defence.
With the triumph, Argentina have now halted their record of five consecutive knockout defeats to Brazil. Here are five key highlights from the Copa America final.
5. Brazil’s approach of creating through the Neymar-Paqueta link-up
Ever since breaking in and reserving his place as a starter, Lucas Paqueta has been a crucial link in Tite’s side. The Lyon midfielder has done well to open spaces and play as the creative midfielder that Brazil have been craving for. One bonus trait that he has shown in particular is the ability to combine with Neymar.
Neymar and Paqueta’s link-up was crucial in Brazil’s two wins prior to the match and Tite decided to use it in the final as well. Most of the balls were directed towards either Paqueta or Neymar, who looked to progress via dribbles or interchanges of passes between themselves.
They received the ball often and did well individually on several occasions. However, Argentina did not let the combination flourish in the final third, which minimized the threats of Brazil.
4. Argentina’s attacking change rises up to the occasion
Argentina made three changes to their line-up for the final. Gonzalo Montiel replaced Nahuel Molina at right back, while Christian Romero replaced German Pezzella for the center-back spot. Angel Di Maria, often introduced after halftime in previous games, started ahead of Nico Gonzalez in the final.
It was a crucial change as it was Di Maria who scored the winning goal. The PSG winger was relatively comfortable in making runs in the right flank, troubling Renan Lodi with his quick footwork. It was Lodi’s misjudgment that led to the game’s only goal. In addition to being sharp on the field, the forward was particularly effective in link-up with Messi and De Paul.
3. Progression through Rodrigo De Paul and Lo Celso
Seeing Argentina’s approach, from starting Angel Di Maria to adopting a 4-4-2 formation, it was obvious that Lionel Scaloni had a plan against Brazil. The center of the plan, tasked to create from midfield, was Rodrigo De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso. Since Scaloni anticipated Brazil’s man-marking, this plan made Argentina’s attacks look lively.
De Paul, in particular, was potent in progressing and retaining the ball for Argentina against Brazil. The midfielder used the spaces and connected well with the forwards. De Paul capped off his night with an assist for Di Maria’s goal. As the game progressed and Brazil began to put pressure, Lo Celso and De Paul were crucial in winning midfield battles, as well as creating chances and spaces for forwards making runs in the final third.
2. Montiel and Romero’s rigid defensive performance
The two defensive changes for Argentina stepped up in their most difficult test to nullify South America’s most lethal attacking force. Romero, coming after an impressive campaign with Atalanta in the Serie A, looked crisp with his decision-making. His ability of zonal defending and keeping track of the runners proved handy in supporting Nicolas Otamendi. Before he was substituted, Romero nullified dribbles from Neymar and Paqueta.
Another stand-out defensive performer was Montiel, who dealt with the threats from Brazil’s left side well. Going one on one against fast wingers like Éverton Ribeiro and Vinicius Jr, the right back won nine out of 10 ground duels. Brazil’s plans of using these two players to create cut-in scenarios or to plant crosses were nullified by Montiel’s rigid performance.
1. What went wrong in Brazil’s title defense?
It is fair to say that this Argentinian side looked to be more threatening than any other side that Brazil had faced in their way to the final. With their attacking flair, Argentina posed some early threats and scored a goal after unsettling the Brazilian defence in the initial stage of the game. However, as the games went on, the Selecao began to take things under control. They enjoyed possession, shot from both inside and outside of the box, yet failed to find the back of the nets.
This has been the case with Tite’s Brazil from the start. Even in the matches where they buried four or five past their opponents, the conversion ratio stood relatively low. Not being clinical in front of goal haunted Brazil against Argentina in the final. Added to that, Emiliano Martinez’s splendid saves did not help either.
Similarly, the Argentinian side let Brazil have the possession, but only in the area that they wanted to. As Brazil tried to progress from the middle to the final third, Argentinian defence converged and essentially got better of them. The game saw 42 fouls and most of the physical tussles happened in the midfield. Argentina’s overhaul in tracking back and defending also served as a hindrance to Neymar’s dribbles, which helped Argentina to successfully hold on to their lead.