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It is funny to think that if Bernd Leno would not have gotten injured against Brighton in July 2020, Argentina would not be in the Copa America finals. Emi Martinez would never have gotten a chance to show his quality for Arsenal. He would not have earned a move to Aston Villa (an upgrade in his own, and in the informed watcher’s opinion). He would not have made the Argentina squad and he definitely would not have been in goal to save three penalties in the semi-final against Colombia.



Lionel Messi has finally found an able Robin to his Batman. Gonzalo Higuain. Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero, even Javier Mascherano all tried and failed. At the end of the day there was only one match winner for the Albiceleste. Until today.



It was an unusual tactic used by the Argentine number one. One straight out of a movie script – trash talk your way into the opponent’s head and make them make a mistake. “Stop walking like that, I know where your shot is going. Watch and see how I’m gonna eat you up” is what Martinez reportedly said to Yerry Mina before the Colombian’s penalty.



However, to credit his saves to just the shortcomings of Mina, Davinson Sanchez and Edwin Cardona is to do a great disservice. The saves were exceptional in their own right, the sh*thousery added to the spectacle.

And Messi was exceptional as usual. He created a chance out of nothing for Lautaro Martinez right at the start but it was a difficult one to finish. Messi repeated the trick soon after laying it on a plate for Lautaro after being played in by Giovani Lo Celso. He was flattened multiple times but when you have been Lionel Messi for so long, you get used to the rough treatment.



He did his bit early on in the shootout, smashing in his penalty in the top left corner of the goal before Martinez took over. But will this Messi and Martinez combination be enough for Argentina in the final?



If Messi and Martinez are superheroes in the mould of Batman and Robin, Brazil have their own Avengers cast at Copa 2021. And for once, their strength lies at the back. Ederson is one of the world’s best goalkeepers, Marquinhos one of the world’s best centre backs. Thiago Silva has enjoyed a resurgence at Chelsea and Danilo and Renan Lodi are very solid defensively.



Add to this the cover offered by Casemiro, Fred and Fabinho in midfield and getting past the Brazilian block becomes a very difficult prospect. In a way, Brazil has everything Argentina doesn’t – a good defence, stability and consistency in selection, and a manager who has a clear idea as to what he is doing.

Brazil also has everything Argentina does – a talismanic Messi-esque forward in Neymar, a dynamic yet creative midfielder a la Rodrigo de Paul in Lucas Paqueta, and promising, if misfiring, strikers in Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus to compete with Lautaro Martinez.



The Selecao squad was miles ahead in terms of quality and their tournament has simply proven that. Their impressive free-flowing start with seven goals in their first two matches has been contrasted with steely 1-0 wins against Chile and Peru in the quarters and semis, the former with 10 men after Jesus’ red card.



One would have assumed, before today’s events, that Argentina need divine intervention via their number 10 to beat Brazil. Their defence is shaky at best and catastrophic on average. Their midfield keeps changing and anyone’s guess is as good as manager Lionel Scaloni’s on who will start the final. Their forward line is profligate, to put it politely.

Martinez’s heroics give new hope to the Albiceleste supporters in the latest chapter of their age-old rivalry against Brazil. Maybe, just maybe, Argentina can hold the fort at the back and hope for some magic to get them a break. And they really do deserve a break.



An extra time goal in the 2014 World Cup final, two penalty shoot out defeats to Chile in back-to-back Copa America finals, and some very questionable refereeing in their exit to Brazil in 2019. Even in their semifinal win against Colombia they should have had a penalty when Nicolas Otamendi was held back in the 18-yard box. Luck has not erred on the side of Messi and co. for a decade.

It is weird to think of Argentina as the underdogs given their rich history but that is exactly what it is – history. They haven’t won a Copa or a World Cup since 1993. Their squad is the inferior one even with the world’s best on their side. Maybe that is what they need. For a team that has always had to deal with the burden of fulfilling expectations, not being the favourite can be liberating.

Of course, the pressure will still be there – they are playing their arch rivals in the final of a major tournament after all. The romantic in every football fan hopes for Messi to win an international trophy and this is perhaps his last chance. But even Argentina’s own fans do not expect them to win this time. They only hope.

Ritwik Khanna
Economics student supporting FC Goa and Manchester United, in true masochistic way. Can be found reading Jonathan Wilson and Sid Lowe or planning a quirky trip in his free time.

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