The Rugby Championship begins this weekend, with the four nations keen to find form ahead of the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan.

New Zealand have won the tournament in each of the past three years and the All Blacks are favourites to once again finish above Australia, Argentina and South Africa.

We run the rule over the quartet ahead of the start of the Rugby Championship, where teams will only face each other once in a World Cup year.

NEW ZEALAND

The All Blacks are chasing more than just a fourth successive title and third consecutive World Cup in the coming months, with a slice of history also on the line. No team has ever won the Rugby Championship - or the Tri-Nations, as it was previously known - and also lifted that year's World Cup.

New Zealand were beaten by South Africa in Wellington during last year's Rugby Championship - the first time in nine years the Springboks had won an away game against the All Blacks - while a 16-9 defeat to Ireland in November will have given the rest of the rugby world further encouragement.

Sonny Bill Williams, who will not feature against Argentina on Saturday, has had an injury-hit Super Rugby season and Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock will be rested for the Pumas clash. However, this is a star-studded team regardless - one that contains 2016 and 2017 World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett - and they remain the gold standard.

SOUTH AFRICA

The Springboks were runners-up last year and might have finished top of the pile had they not thrown away a 30-13 lead against New Zealand in Pretoria after beating them in their own backyard. They ended the year with seven wins from 14 games so consistency will be the key.

A home Test series success over England was a sign South Africa could be a team to fear under Rassie Erasmus, whose decision to relax the rules on selecting European-based players has paid dividends.

Fly-half Handre Pollard was brilliant during the Super Rugby season, finishing as the league's leading point scorer, though he will be rested against the Wallabies in the opener and Aphiwe Dyantyi is sidelined by a hamstring problem.

AUSTRALIA

The Wallabies endured a horrendous 2018, losing nine of their 13 Tests. They suffered three heavy defeats to the All Blacks and were beaten by both Argentina and South Africa.

Australia slipped to their lowest-ever ranking of seventh following their first loss to the Pumas on home soil since 1983 and then lost two of their three November internationals, against Wales and England. They have not played a game in 2019 but former star full-back Israel Folau has already been making headlines, having been sacked by Rugby Australia following a controversial social-media post in which he wrote "hell awaits…drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters".

Coach Michael Cheika, who has left Quade Cooper out of his squad, made clear he will walk away if Australia do not lift the World Cup in Japan, so this competition should give an indication to his long-term future. Cancer survivor Christian Lealiifano could make his first appearance in three years at this tournament, though he will miss the South Africa clash with a shoulder problem.

ARGENTINA

The Pumas' 2018 did not start well - two home defeats to Wales preceding a 44-15 thrashing at the hands of Scotland in Resistencia - and coach Daniel Hourcade vacated his post, replaced by Mario Ledesma.

Having never won more than once in a single Rugby Championship campaign before, Argentina claimed two victories in 2018 by overcoming South Africa 32-19 in Mendoza and then beating the Wallabies on Australian soil, but they were winless in November Tests against Ireland, France and Scotland.

The Jaguares, who provide the bulk of this Argentina squad, reached their first ever Super Rugby final this year, only to be beaten by the Crusaders, but translating that club success on the international stage is an altogether different challenge.

New Zealand will be expected to continue their dominance of Argentina and the Rugby Championship when the tournament gets under way on Saturday.

The All Blacks have won the trophy in each of the last three years and are favourites to retain it with the Rugby World Cup fast approaching.

Argentina have never beaten the world champions in 32 attempts and will have to produce something special to make history in Buenos Aires this weekend.

South Africa host Australia at Emirates Airline Park, and the Springboks have won nine of their previous 10 encounters with the Wallabies at the Johannesburg venue.

Take a look at the Opta numbers ahead of Saturday's opening round of matches.

 

South Africa v Australia

- South Africa have lost only one of their last five Tests against Australia, although two of those meetings ended as draws.

- The Springboks have won 13 of their last 16 games played at Emirates Airline Park, including their last three on the bounce, scoring an average of 36 points per match.

- Australia will be looking to secure back-to-back Rugby Championship wins for the first time since 2016 after ending their 2018 campaign with a 45-34 success over Argentina.

- The Wallabies' win rate of 24 per cent when playing in South Africa is their lowest in any nation. Indeed, it is the lowest win rate of any of the six nations to have played more than 20 Tests there.

- Australia back Dane Haylett-Petty gained 397 metres in the 2018 Rugby Championship, the most of any player and 130 more than South Africa's best, Siya Kolisi (267).

 

Argentina v New Zealand

- Argentina’s only positive result against New Zealand came in a 21-21 draw in November 1985. Since that match in Buenos Aires they have lost all 10 home games against the All Blacks.

- New Zealand are on the cusp of their 450th win – 43 more than any other team – and require just 26 points this weekend to become the first nation to score 16,000 international points.

- The All Blacks have won 15 of their last 17 games, including a 66-3 victory against Italy in Rome in their most recent fixture.

- Argentina full-back Nicolas Sanchez scored the most points (67) of any player in the competition last year. He scored four tries, 16 of 17 conversions, four of seven penalty attempts and a drop goal.

- Argentina have lost their last four games played at Velez Sarsfield, including defeats to New Zealand in their last two games at the venue.

Mario Ledesma hopes Argentina can use the nation's excitement to their advantage in their Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand.

Argentina will host the All Blacks in Buenos Aires on Saturday, in the first of three games of a tournament shortened due to the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

The clash comes on the back of the Jaguares' stunning run to the Super Rugby final, where they fell to the Crusaders.

Argentina's starting line-up for their Rugby Championship opener includes 13 Jaguares and Ledesma hopes his team can deliver.

"We have to play with the enthusiasm of the people," he told a news conference.

"That people are excited is great and we have to take the positive side, but we have to be on and [focus on] how we improve from here to Saturday."

The All Blacks are unbeaten in 32 previous meetings with Argentina, winning 31 and drawing one.

Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli, Matias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano, Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy, Juan Figallo, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, Javier Ortega Desio.
Replacements: Julian Montoya, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Felipe Ezcurra, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Joaquin Tuculet.

Just two months before the Rugby World Cup starts in Japan, this year's Rugby Championship will give opportunities for players desperate to board the plane to Japan.

While Beauden Barrett, Michael Hooper, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Nicolas Sanchez are nailed on to feature on the biggest stage for their respective nations, fitness permitting of course, there are some who are playing for a place in the squad.

New Zealand prepare to start the defence of their title against Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday, while South Africa and Australia do battle at Ellis Park on the same day.

Here we have picked out those who will be determined to grasp their opportunities in a shortened tournament in 2019.

 

SEVU REECE, NEW ZEALAND

Reece was one of four uncapped players named in the All Blacks squad for the opening two rounds.

The 22-year-old wing was the leading try scorer in Super Rugby, lighting up the competition as the Crusaders retained their title.

Fiji-born flyer Reece has the pace, power and skill to deliver on the international stage and an impressive Rugby Championship can book him a ticket to the World Cup.

Reece was supposed to join Connacht and looked set to play for Fiji, but after being granted a discharge without conviction over a domestic assault last year, he has experienced a rapid rise.

 

HARRY JOHNSON-HOLMES, AUSTRALIA

Johnson-Holmes was flown over to Johannesburg to link up with an injury-hit Australia squad for their encounter with the Springboks.

The 22-year-old Waratahs prop is poised to come off the bench for what is sure to be a fierce battle this weekend.

With Tom Robertson (ankle) and Scott Sio (adductor) missing out, Johnson-Holmes has been summoned from the fringes.

James Slipper got the nod to start in what will be his first international appearance since 2016 and he will be eager to make up for lost time, but Johnson-Holmes is vying for a World Cup call.

 

HERSCHEL JANTJIES, SOUTH AFRICA

Herschel Jantjies and Rynhardt Elstadt will make their South Africa bows against Michael Cheika's men.

Elton Jantjies and namesake Herschel will form a half-back pairing for the first time on the Test stage.

Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says scrum-half Herschel has the potential for greatness and he will get the opportunity to live up to the hype.

While Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach are ahead of the 23-year-old in the pecking order, but there is still time to show he merits a spot after an excellent Super Rugby season for the Stormers.

 

LUCAS MENSA, ARGENTINA 

Livewire Lucas Mensa is a potential bolter for the Pumas' World Cup party.

The centre was called up to Argentina's first Rugby Championship squad by Mario Ledesma, who will be aiming to build on an outstanding, historic Super Rugby campaign by the Jaguares.

Mensa is a bundle of energy and is capable of hitting the ground running at international level.

Yet to make his debut, the 23-year-old has impressed Ledesma while playing for Argentina XV in the Americas Rugby Championship.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has rejected the Palestine Football Association president's appeal against a 12-month ban for "inciting hatred and violence" against Lionel Messi.

Ahead of Argentina's scheduled pre-World Cup friendly against Israel in June 2018, Jibril Rajoub spoke out about the match amid the conflict and political tension between Israelis and Palestinians.

The match was due to take place in Teddy Stadium, Jerusalem, a ground built on land said to have belonged to a Palestinian village before its destruction in 1948.

Rajoub urged fans to target Messi and incited them to burn shirts bearing the Barcelona star's name, with the match ultimately being cancelled.

FIFA received a complaint from the Israeli Football Association and Rajoub was given a 12-month ban from all matches at any level until August 23, 2019, while also being fined 20,000 Swiss francs (€18,056).

His appeal to FIFA was rejected in September, two months before he raised the case with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Rajoub has again been unsuccessful in fighting the punishment, with the CAS panel adjudging him to have "failed to establish that any procedural violations were committed in the proceedings before the FIFA disciplinary committee...  that could justify the annulment of such decisions".

CAS, in its statement, added: "Accordingly, the CAS panel dismissed the appeal and confirmed FIFA appeal committee decision of 24 September 2018."

Sevu Reece will make his New Zealand debut in the Rugby Championship clash against Argentina, while four further uncapped players have been named among the replacements by Steve Hansen.

Reece was a controversial selection in the All Blacks' squad after he received a discharge without conviction for domestic assault last year.

Irish province Connacht pulled out of a move for Reece in the wake of his court appearance, but the wing was then signed by the Crusaders as injury cover and went on to excel as Super Rugby's top try-scorer in 2019.

Reece is now set to start on the right wing in Buenos Aires on Saturday, with Jordie Barrett on the opposite flank.

Head coach Hansen was quoted by stuff.co.nz as saying: "As the season has gone on, he [Reece] has just got better and better as a player. And as a person. We got interested enough to say, 'Hey, we need to keep looking at this guy'.

"And then it got past that point and we said, 'Look, we are going to need to pick him'.

"Now we want to find out if he can take that next step. This game is the logical game to play him in."

Sam Cane had already been confirmed as New Zealand's stand-in skipper and Ardie Savea will start at number eight in the absence of Kieran Read, one of several Crusaders players rested for the Argentina fixture.

Atu Moli, Luke Jacobson, Josh Ioane and Braydon Ennor could join Reece in earning their first caps after being named on the bench.

New Zealand team to face Argentina: Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Ofa Tuungafasi, Dane Coles, Angus Ta'avao, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Vaea Fifita, Sam Cane (captain), Ardie Savea.

Replacements: Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Nepo Laulala, Jackson Hemopo, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Josh Ioane, Braydon Ennor.

Dani Alves has criticised Lionel Messi for being "disrespectful" of Brazil with his controversial comments at the Copa America.

Argentina star Messi railed against "corruption" and the quality of officiating after harshly being dismissed for an altercation with Chile's Gary Medel in Saturday's bronze medal match.

Crucial refereeing decisions also went against La Albiceleste in their semi-final loss to host nation and eventual champions Brazil.

CONMEBOL – football's governing body in South America – branded the forward's allegations of corruption "unacceptable" and Brazil boss Tite urged him to show more respect.

Veteran right-back Alves, Messi's team-mate for close to a decade at Barcelona, echoed that view.

"A friend is not always right just because he's a friend. You can say it in the heat of the moment, but I still won't agree," the Brazil captain told SporTV.

"Firstly, he's disrespecting an institution such as the Selecao, in my view.

"Secondly, he's being disrespectful with several professionals who put a lot of things aside so they could be there fighting for a dream.

"I'm a friend who always tells the truth when it's due, and I think he was wrong for saying these things."

Argentina overcame Chile in the third-place play-off but Messi did not join his team-mates in collecting a medal.

Alves and Brazil went on to beat Peru in the final, winning the tournament for the first time since 2007.

UEFA has denied reports it would entertain inviting Argentina into its European competitions following the 2019 Copa America.

Argentina finished third at the Copa but captain and star man Lionel Messi voiced complaints following the semi-final and the third-place play-off, during which he was controversially sent off.

Messi described the officiating during the loss to Brazil as "bull****" and suggested his side were victims of "corruption" after beating Chile, which led to a strong rebuttal from CONMEBOL who described his comments as "unacceptable" and "unfounded".

It was subsequently reported UEFA could invite Argentina to enter its Nations League.

However, European football's governing body has denied this is the case, insisting such an offer would never be forthcoming.

A statement read: "There is no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that Argentina has been asked to participate in UEFA competitions, nor to become a member of UEFA.

"UEFA has never entered into any discussions on this matter and would never do so.

"However, in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie and as an inclusive organisation, UEFA will, of course, invite Argentina as special guests to watch any UEFA competition at any time."

CONMEBOL responded to allegations of corruption as they labelled Lionel Messi's comments "unacceptable" and "unfounded" at the Copa America.

Argentina defeated Chile 2-1 in the third-place play-off on Saturday, but Messi railed against "corruption" and "a lack of respect" following his red card against the two-time reigning champions.

Messi – who was controversially dismissed in the first half after an altercation with Gary Medel – vented his frustration post-match, having criticised the officiating following Argentina's semi-final loss to hosts Brazil.

The Argentina captain's allegations angered the South American football governing body, which hit back in a statement.

"In football sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and accepting the outcome of a match with loyalty and respect is a fundamental pillar of fair play. Same goes to the refereeing decisions, that are human and will never be perfect," the statement read.

"It's unacceptable that because of incidents proper to the competitions, where 12 Nations competed in, all in equal condition, there have been unfounded accusations that misrepresent the truth and put to judgement the integrity of Copa America.

"Said accusations represent a lack of respect for the competition, all the football players involved and the hundreds of professionals of CONMEBOL, institution that since 2016 has been tirelessly working to transparent, professionalize and develop South American football."

Messi was dismissed when Chile's Medel reacted angrily to a challenge and repeatedly bumped into the Barcelona star with his chest.

Neither Medel nor Messi raised their hands and the Chile man was the clear aggressor in the incident as both players saw red.

There was a VAR check but referee Mario Diaz de Vivar did not look back at the footage on the pitch-side monitor.

When asked why he was not on the pitch for the medal ceremony, Messi told reporters: "Because we don't have to be part of this corruption, this lack of respect towards the whole Copa."

Messi added: "I always tell the truth. That leaves me calm. Then, if what I say has repercussions, it is not to do with me as I am always sincere."

Lionel Messi's red card in Argentina's 2-1 win over Chile at the Copa America bemused head coach Lionel Scaloni, who defended the country's captain.

Argentina ended their Copa America campaign with a bronze medal after overcoming Chile in Saturday's third-place play-off, however, the result was overshadowed by Messi's controversial dismissal.

Messi and Gary Medel both saw red in the first half after the Chile midfielder reacted angrily to a challenge and repeatedly bumped into the five-time Ballon d'Or winner with his chest.

Afterwards, Messi railed against "corruption" and "a lack of respect" following his decision to snub the medal ceremony at Arena Corinthians, having been critical of the officiating in the aftermath of Argentina's semi-final loss to hosts Brazil.

Asked about Messi's red card, Scaloni told reporters: "I have seen the video and so far, I do not understand what he did to have been expelled.

"It would be interesting if the referee came out to public to speak exactly what he saw and also the men of the VAR.

"Obviously, he made a very quick decision, very strange, and worst of all is that the VAR does not correct, because for this there is the VAR. The VAR is here to help, and today it did not help."

Scaloni added: "We have already seen a few times expulsions in which the referee returns in the decision and shows the yellow card. This is what should have happened in this case.

"If you look well, Messi did nothing. Well, they did not go back on the decision, they did not review it. I think the criterion is very strange. The other day Uruguay, I think it was by the nail of the foot, by the finger of Cavani pointed offside. They reviewed the video 55 times to try to justify, and with our team, everything that is against, is not reviewed.

"Not a good feeling, honestly. I do not want to think badly, but the feeling does not convince me. It does not convince our team, nor the Chileans, that we play today, Uruguay... There were many teams that had a bad feeling about this matter, and we were the most harmed because today we would be speaking in another situation."

Lionel Messi claimed Argentina were superior to Brazil and deserved to be in the Copa America final as the superstar insisted "football was not fair" to La Albiceleste.

Messi was controversially sent off in the first half as Argentina defeated Chile 2-1 in Saturday's third-place play-off at Arena Corinthians.

Argentina, who lost 2-0 to hosts Brazil in the semi-final, received the bronze medal but Messi did not appear with his team-mates during the presentation as the captain railed against "corruption" and "a lack of respect".

Messi continued to be vocal post-match, however, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner believes the future is bright for Argentina.

"We leave this Cup with a triumph but above all with our heads up and with the feeling that this time football was not fair with us," Messi said in an Instagram post.

"For what we played and because we were superior to Brazil, we deserved to be in the final tomorrow.

"But we have to look forward and with optimism because there is a future and a very large base in this team and we just have to give time."

Messi was dismissed when Chile's Gary Medel reacted angrily to a challenge and repeatedly bumped into the Barcelona star with his chest.

Neither Medel nor Messi raised their hands and the Chile man was the clear aggressor in the incident as both players saw red.

There was a VAR check but referee Mario Diaz de Vivar did not look back at the footage on the pitch-side monitor.

Messi blasted the officiating at the Copa America after Argentina were eliminated by Brazil in the final four in a match in which Lionel Scaloni's side had two penalty appeals that went unchecked by VAR.

He suggested the red card had been punishment for those comments, saying: "With a yellow card it would have been over for both of us, but, well, maybe I'm paying for what I said last time."

With Brazil set to face Peru in Sunday's decider, Messi added: "Hopefully, the referees and VAR won't influence it and they'll let Peru compete, but that looks difficult to me."

Messi said: "I always tell the truth. That leaves me calm. Then, if what I say has repercussions, it is not to do with me as I am always sincere."

Lionel Messi railed against "corruption" and "a lack of respect" at the Copa America following Argentina's win over Chile in the bronze medal match.

Messi was sent off, along with Gary Medel, after an altercation in the first half of a tempestuous meeting at Arena Corinthians.

After the match, which Argentina won 2-1 thanks to first-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala before Arturo Vidal scored a penalty, Messi did not appear with his team-mates to collect his medal.

When asked why he was not on the pitch for the ceremony, he told reporters: "Because we don't have to be part of this corruption, this lack of respect towards the whole Copa."

Messi was dismissed when Medel reacted angrily to a challenge and repeatedly bumped into the Barcelona star with his chest. Neither Medel nor Messi raised their hands and the Chile man was the clear aggressor in the incident.

There was a VAR check but referee Mario Diaz de Vivar did not look back at the footage on the pitch-side monitor.

Messi blasted the officiating at the tournament after Argentina lost to hosts Brazil in the semi-finals in a match in which Lionel Scaloni's side had two penalty appeals that went unchecked by VAR.

He suggested the red card had been punishment for those comments, saying: "With a yellow card it would have been over for both of us, but, well, maybe I'm paying for what I said last time.

"The important thing is that the team finished the tournament well. We do not have get caught up in the lack of respect that happened here.

"I leave calmly, with my head high and proud of this group, who gave everything. I hope that this group is respected – it has a lot to give.

"The group showed a lot of personality. It's not easy to start with a defeat [against Colombia] and then drawing [against Paraguay] – that made us stronger and we finished in a very positive way.

"They could have reviewed the sending off, but VAR was not used."

Looking ahead to the final between the Tite's men and Peru, Messi said: "Hopefully, the referees and VAR won't influence it and they'll let Peru compete, but that looks difficult to me."

He added: "I always tell the truth. That leaves me calm. Then, if what I say has repercussions, it is not to do with me as I am always sincere."

Lionel Messi was sent off as Argentina beat Chile 2-1 to clinch Copa America bronze with both sides reduced to 10 men in an ill-tempered clash at Arena Corinthians.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner appeared to be the victim of shoving by Chile's Gary Medel, but the referee sent both players off after 37 minutes with Argentina already two goals to the good.

Messi provided the assist for Sergio Aguero's 12th-minute opener before Juventus forward Paulo Dybala doubled Argentina's lead, but the first half ended with protests against the contentious red cards.

There were 21 fouls before the break and sparks continued to fly as Chile were awarded a penalty just before the hour, Arturo Vidal scoring from the spot.

Reinaldo Rueda's men failed to force an equaliser, but there was time for two further bookings that took the tally of cards shown to eight at the end of an explosive encounter.

Aguero lashed a shot narrowly wide after seven minutes but made amends moments later when Messi's nonchalant free-kick picked out the Manchester City striker, who rounded Gabriel Arias before slotting home from a tight angle.

Chile's Alexis Sanchez limped off clutching his hamstring before Arias made a diving save from an 18-yard Messi drive but was beaten again when Dybala controlled Giovani Lo Celso's throughball and chipped over the goalkeeper from the edge of the six-yard box.

Dybala sent a flying volley just wide before a volatile first half turned nasty when Medel pushed Messi around the pitch only for the referee to send both players off amid vociferous complaints on all sides. 

The second half began with a a penalty claim, Charles Aranguiz appearing to bundle Aguero over in the box, but the referee saw no foul.

He awarded a penalty to Chile when Lo Celso slid in late on Aranguiz and Vidal lashed the spot-kick straight down the middle.

Lionel Scaloni sent on Angel Di Maria for Dybala and the winger embarked on a mazy dribble past several Chile players before selling Aguero slightly short with his final ball and the striker fired tamely at Arias with the last clear chance of the game.

 

What does it mean? Scaloni's future remains hopeful

Argentina's failure to reach the final left Scaloni under pressure and his contract is up at the end of the year, but avoiding defeat here will have taken some of the heat of the Albiceleste coach.

Dybala looking dangerous

Reportedly a transfer target for Manchester United, Paulo Dybala did his chances of earning a lucrative move away from Juventus no harm with a lively performance and a well-taken goal.

Pulgar lucky to stay on

On a night when the referee was struggling to keep order, Erick Pulgar was lucky to escape with just a booking after throwing himself into several rash challenges.

What's next?

Chile will have the opportunity for revenge when the two sides meet in September in a game that looks likely to make a mockery of the term 'friendly'.

Lionel Messi was sent-off after 37 minutes of Argentina's Copa America clash with Chile for his part in an altercation with Besiktas defender Gary Medel.

Tempers flared throughout the first-half of the third place play-off and Medel retaliated following a challenge from Messi by appearing to aim a headbutt before repeatedly pushing his chest into the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's body.

The pair continued to charge each other until referee Mario Diaz de Vivar produced straight red cards, sparking protests from both teams.

Those complaints continued after the half-time whistle was blown, with Argentina leading 2-0 courtesy of goals from Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala.

Messi, who provided the assist for Aguero's opener, was making his 27th appearance for Argentina in the Copa America, surpassing Javier Mascherano to become the most capped Albiceleste player in the competition's history.

The 32-year-old was furious after Argentina's previous game - a 2-0 semi-final defeat to Brazil - for what he perceived to be poor refereeing decisions, branding the officiating "bull****".

Marquinhos revealed he suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting before rising to the "very complicated" challenge of marking Lionel Messi in Brazil's Copa America semi-final victory over Argentina.

The Paris Saint-Germain defender lasted 64 minutes of the match in Belo Horizonte despite being hit with a virus and, by the time Miranda replaced him, the Selecao were 1-0 up courtesy of Gabriel Jesus' first-half opener.

Roberto Firmino doubled Brazil's lead seven minutes after Marquinhos' departure and head coach Tite saw his back four restrict Argentina's front three of Lautaro Martinez, Sergio Aguero and Messi – although the latter two hit crossbar and post respectively.

Marquinhos hailed Messi's performance as "inspired" but conceded keeping tabs on the Barcelona talisman was a struggle.

"It was not easy, no," he told reporters. "He was on inspired [form that] night. Not only him, as the Argentine team made a great game.

"It was very difficult, but I think the team managed to cancel out the attacks of Argentina well.

"The ones we could not [cancel out] had some lucky chances, with balls hitting the post and Alisson made some great saves. That makes a strong and solid team."

Marquinhos said he received treatment at the stadium medical facility after the game, which saw Brazil progress to the Copa America final for the first time since 2007.

Brazil will play Peru in Sunday's final and the centre-back will hope he can stay fit and healthy as his team-mates aim to lift the trophy for the ninth time.

Describing his illness, Marquinhos added: "On the day of the game, I ended up [suffering from] a virus and I spent the day at the hotel.

"[It was] very complicated. [I had] diarrhoea and vomiting, I still managed to play a little, but with the effort it got worse [during the] game."

"After the game, it ended up getting worse too. I had a fever and I ended up having to go to the stadium infirmary. But I managed to get an injection and I feel better."

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