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Neymar ‘wants Argentina’ as Brazil book Copa America final spot

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Lucas Paqueta (L) celebrates with team-mates Neymar Jr (C) and Richarlison after scoring for Brazil against Peru
Lucas Paqueta (L) celebrates with team-mates Neymar Jr (C) and Richarlison after scoring for Brazil against Peru

Brazil forward Neymar said he hopes Argentina will be their opponents in the Copa America final and has no doubts that the hosts would come out on top against their fierce rivals.

Brazil beat Peru 1-0 in last night’s semi-final in Rio de Janeiro thanks to a 35th-minute goal from Lucas Paqueta – his second in two games – to book their spot in Saturday’s decider at the Maracana stadium.

The second semi-final between Argentina and Colombia is on Tuesday.

“I want Argentina, I am cheering them on,” Neymar said with a smile. “I have friends there and in the final Brazil will win.”

The last time the two sides met in a Copa America final was in 2007, when Brazil won 3-0 in Venezuela, and a title match between the arch rivals would be a treat for the neutrals.

It would not only pit the tournament’s only unbeaten teams against each other it would also be a showdown between two of the best No. 10s in the game, former Barcelona team mates Neymar and Lionel Messi.

Both players have had an exceptional tournament so far, with Neymar recording two goals and three assists, while Messi has four goals and four assists.

Brazil are reigning champions and have home advantage at a tournament that was supposed to be co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia.

Colombia was stripped of hosting rights due to a wave of civil unrest and Argentina pulled out at the last minute because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Neymar missed Brazil’s Copa America triumph on home soil two years ago but inspired them to the 2013 Confederations Cup as well as Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Messi, meanwhile, has won everything with his club Barcelona but nothing with Argentina, who are aiming to win a first major title since the 1993 Copa America.

Brazil have won the Copa America every time they hosted the tournament and in the early part of Monday’s match showed exactly why they are favourites to do so again.

Within the first 20 minutes Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese made two point-blank saves in succession from Neymar and Richarlison plus another two blocks when Casemiro tried his luck from further out.

With Paqueta, who scored the winner in their 1-0 quarter-final win over Chile, a standout in midfield, Brazil played some intricate, audacious football, replete with flicks, nutmegs and backheels but it took them 35 minutes to break the deadlock.

Neymar beat three men on the left and clipped the ball across goal for Paqueta to volley home from 10 metres.

“It was a very tough game, very hard fought,” Paqueta said. “They are a very strong side but we managed to make it through a difficult spell.”

Neymar was quick to sing his team mate’s praises and said there was more to come.

“Paqueta is a great player, he’s getting better with each game,” he added. “He had a great season with his club and here he is showing that he can be a very important player for Brazil.”

While Brazil were in the ascendancy in the opening period it was a different story in the second half as the introduction of Marcos Lopez and Raziel Garcia at the break shook Peru awake.

Losing finalists in 2019, Peru pushed forward in search of an equaliser with Gianluca Lapadula forcing Ederson into a key block, with the Brazil goalkeeper looking uneasy on a couple of other occasions.

Peru pinned Brazil back for long spells of the second half but could not make their possession count as the home side extended their unbeaten run to 13 games.

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