Argentina qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, despite playing out a goalless draw with CONMEBOL rivals Brazil.

Lionel Messi returned to the line-up but he was unable to inspire Argentina, who played out a stalemate against Qatar-bound Brazil in San Juan on Tuesday.

That underwhelming performance left Copa America champions Argentina waiting to discover their World Cup fate.

Argentina only had to wait less than an hour as 10-man Chile lost 2-0 at home to Ecuador, sealing La Albiceleste's qualification after Colombia and Uruguay also failed to win.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina – riding a 27-game unbeaten streak – are second in the CONMEBOL standings with five matches remaining, six points behind leaders Brazil and six clear of third-placed Ecuador.

Argentina and Brazil have both played a game less following September's qualifier in Sao Paulo, which was sensationally abandoned after Scaloni's men left the field as Brazilian health officials tried to detain visiting players due to coronavirus regulations.

Having ended their 28-year wait for silverware via July's Copa America, Messi's Argentina will now look to conquer the World Cup.

Two-time champions Argentina – eliminated in the round of 16 at Russia 2018 – have not won the World Cup since Diego Maradona inspired the country to 1986 glory, though they reached the final in 2014.

Brazil head coach Tite said the Selecao are pursuing excellence after booking their ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Lucas Paqueta's second-half strike secured a 1-0 win over Colombia on Thursday and Brazil's Qatar 2022 qualification with five games to spare.

Paqueta broke the deadlock 18 minutes from time in Sao Paulo, where he linked up with Neymar to guide Brazil to their 12th match without defeat in the CONMEBOL section of qualifying.

Brazil have now won their last 11 home games in World Cup qualifying – the longest winning streak of any team in CONMEBOL history.

Despite Brazil's World Cup berth already certain, Tite and the five-time world champions are refusing to rest on their laurels ahead of Tuesday's showdown against bitter rivals Argentina.

"Solidity, having creation, having a goal and winning," Tite told reporters. "That is excellence. Creation and scoring, defensive solidity and triumphs. That is what moves us.

"We have to get as close to that. Tomorrow [Friday] we are going to fraternise a little to celebrate the moment."

Tite added: "My greatest joy is sharing the joy. It is priceless when I look at the technical commission, at the people who work in the selection day by day. It is the way, the dignity with which we do our work."

Since taking charge in 2016, former Corinthians boss Tite has overseen 50 wins from 67 matches, with 12 draws and five defeats to go with 2019 Copa America glory.

"The only thing that moves me is doing a whole cycle, something that was not done at the last opportunity," Tite said, in reference to being appointed during Brazil's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign before losing in the quarter-finals in Russia. "That's what moved me. 

"I didn't volunteer for the selection, my manager didn't go honking in anyone's ear, I worked to get there. I took it halfway through a process, we went all the way, you know the story, I was invited back later for a whole process. Just like I did at Gremio, Corinthians, Caxias.

"Then I thought, I thought, man, maybe my professional trajectory will allow me to do an entire period. That's what moves me."

Paqueta has proved to be an influential member of Tite's Brazil since leaving Serie A giants Milan for Ligue 1's Lyon, where he has rediscovered his best form since the 2020 transfer.

Half of Paqueta's goals for Brazil (three of six) have been assisted by star team-mate Neymar.

"The qualification is the result of work that we have been building back there," Paqueta said. "Our goal was to qualify Brazil for the World Cup, and thank God we managed to do that today."

"I have to adapt to my roles, and that gives me a little more confidence to be fighting for my space," said Paqueta.

"No matter where I play, I hope to do my best. I have to think one step at a time to conquer my space and fulfil my dream of playing the World Cup."

Brazil qualified for the 2022 World Cup after Lucas Paqueta's second-half strike secured a 1-0 victory over Colombia.

Tite's Brazil knew a win on Thursday would book their spot at Qatar 2022 and the Selecao claimed the result they needed in hard-fought fashion on home soil.

Paqueta and Neymar combined for the decisive goal in the 72nd minute as CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying leaders Brazil stayed unbeaten through 12 rounds.

Brazil entered the contest having never lost a game against Colombia in all their previous 13 meetings in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying (W6 D7). However, the Selecao had only won one of their last six games in this fixture.

It was a cagey start in Sao Paulo, where Brazil star Neymar was fortunate to escape punishment after getting into the face of referee Roberto Tobar.

The first half came to life during the closing stages as both teams had chances to open the scoring – Brazil finally got in behind Colombia and Danilo's cross deflected onto the post nine minutes before half-time.

Colombia star Luis Diaz then almost curled a stunning long-range effort into the back of the net three minutes later but it flashed just wide of the post, while Brazil's Marquinhos saw his header narrowly miss the far corner of the net on the stroke of half-time.

Like the opening 45 minutes, there was not much separating the two teams until Paqueta popped up to put Brazil ahead.

After Colombia failed to clear the ball properly, Brazil capitalised with 18 minutes remaining – Neymar playing a one-touch pass through to Paqueta, who managed to find a way past David Ospina in instinctive fashion.

 

What does it mean? Brazil maintain World Cup streak

Brazil have never missed the World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930 and the five-time champions extended that run thanks to Thursday's win. The South American powerhouse have gone five games without defeat since losing the Copa America final to bitter rivals Argentina in July.

Paqueta continues to star

After a difficult end to his Milan career, Paqueta has returned to form with Lyon in Ligue 1 and it has translated onto the international stage. The 24-year-old has scored four goals for Brazil this year. Half the goals scored by Paqueta for Brazil (three of six) have been assisted by Neymar.

Toothless Colombia

Colombia cannot buy a goal at the moment. La Tricolor have gone four matches without a goal following three consecutive 0-0 draws in qualifying. Colombia last found the back of the net in September's 3-1 win over Chile.

What's next?

Brazil will be back in action against Argentina on Tuesday, while fifth-placed Colombia host Paraguay on the same day.

Brazil head coach Tite said the Selecao were interested in Xavi joining their coaching staff before the Barcelona great returned to Camp Nou as head coach.

Xavi has been tasked with restoring the fortunes of embattled LaLiga giants Barca following his appointment as Ronald Koeman's successor on Saturday.

The 41-year-old spent 17 trophy-laden seasons at Barcelona before moving to Al-Sadd in 2015, eventually taking charge four years later.

After returning to Catalonia, Xavi revealed he turned down the opportunity to join Tite's Brazil ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

As Brazil – six points clear atop the standings – prepare for Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Colombia, Tite addressed the country's interest.

"I don't have too much information on Xavi to do a deeper analysis," Tite told reporters. "I know him from inside the pitch. And some information from the press that is superficial. I don't know him with the depth I have with my colleagues that I spend every day with. We have to be careful to talk about it.

"What I can say to you is that they talked to me about it. Rogerio Caboclo talked to me about that possibility. And he said that he would talk to Xavi. And I said yes because he could bring, as an assistant manager, the baggage of what he experienced inside the football field.

"Plus the experience he had outside it. As a captain, the conduct he had as a leader, and I could see it even from far away. He could bring his leadership, correction, knowledge, ideas.

"From that moment, what happened I don't know. Rogerio [Caboclo] told you about everything. But, yes, this was talked about. And right afterwards, they talked about Muricy [Ramalho]. And, yes, they talked about it. Yes, he was requested. And this is the second stage because Muricy is the one now."

Brazil are unbeaten through 11 World Cup qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, though the focus has been on Gabriel Jesus leading into the Colombia clash.

Jesus has not scored for the Selecao since the 2019 Copa America final against Peru, but Tite backed the Manchester City forward.

"Gabriel is an attacker," Tite said. "He is either nine or seven. Either he is on the side, as a wing, aggressive. Or he is the one infiltrating. From the depth pass. He has both characteristics. He has this history in the national team.

"Go back in time. When I took over in the game against the Equator, he was that player, he did a sequel. Then, he played on the side with [Roberto] Firmino and [Philippe] Coutinho inside. We didn't have Neymar. He has this versatility. He is a player who has the physical and technical virtues to perform one or another function. Sometimes, scoring a goal is from the opportunities you have.

"It reminds me of Edmar, a player I used to play with. I always thought that there are phases that the ball hits, hits, and I score. And there are some moments when I am in the right place, I follow the move, but the ball doesn't come.  He will appear. In the last match, it appeared. And it had, in the great defences from the Uruguayan goalkeeper [Fernando] Muslera, two or three accurate finishes.

"That is what I want from an attacker. That is what the specific work has been given and what Gabriel Jesus can give."

James Rodriguez has been named in Colombia's squad for the first time in 12 months.

The former Real Madrid playmaker, who left Everton to join Qatari side Al-Rayyan in September, won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup and had been a mainstay in Colombia's side since.

However, with injuries plaguing his time at Goodison Park, restricting him to 26 appearances in all competitions, James was not selected for this year's Copa America squad.

James did not take the news well, disputing the claim made by Colombia's coaching staff that he was not fit enough to be relied upon.

However, coach Reinaldo Rueda still took a hard-line approach and, with James not featuring at all for Everton under Rafael Benitez this season prior to his switch to Qatar, the 30-year-old was left out for World Cup qualifiers in September and October.

Colombia went unbeaten across those six matches, though they won just once. After scoring his first goal for Al-Rayyan in a 4-2 win over Al Sailiya towards the end of October, James has earned a recall for this month's games against Brazil and Paraguay. His last appearance for his country was in a 6-1 defeat to Ecuador in November 2020.

Though injuries did limit his game time, James was a creative fulcrum for Everton last term, creating 54 chances, placing him second in the squad behind Gylfi Sigurdsson (60).

James led the way for Everton with chances created from open play (38) and when it came to crafting big chances (14).

Per 90 minutes played, James forged 0.56 big chances in the Premier League, putting him just below Jack Grealish and Bruno Fernandes (0.58), ranking sixth in the competition among those who played 20 or more matches.

He finished the season with six goals and eight assists and when he was fit and available, James proved his quality for Carlo Ancelotti's team.

However, he has had a stuttering start to life in Qatar. After taking time to get up to full speed, he made his debut in disappointing fashion, with Laurent Blanc's side going down 3-0 to Al Duhail.

Following his goal against Al Sailiya, James was then sent off for dissent in his third appearance for Al-Rayyan, having reacted angrily to a decision going against him.

James subsequently posted a photo to his official Instagram account, showing evidence of facial injuries sustained during the match.

"After the blow I suffered in the game I am already a little better," James wrote. "As you can see, my nose and jaw suffered a bit in the blow.

"The rib took the worst part but nothing to worry about. All of this is part of our job. A few more days and I'll be training again."

Brazil's 100 per cent record in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup was finally ended on Sunday as they were held to an underwhelming 0-0 draw away to Colombia.

Tite's men had won all of their first nine matches in the qualification group before coming unstuck in what was a bruising, albeit disappointing, contest in Barranquilla.

Both sides created chances during an even first half, but the finishing was of a low standard as the score remained goalless at the interval.

Even fewer clear-cut opportunities were created after the break

Yerry Mina wasted a glorious chance to give Colombia an early lead when heading just off target, though they had a lucky escape of their own soon after when Lucas Paqueta prodded agonisingly wide from Neymar's throughball.

Brazil's captain played a key role again just after the half-hour mark as he teed up Fred on the edge of the box, but the Manchester United midfielder's subsequent shot was dreadful.

The match became especially scrappy in the second half, with neither goalkeeper called into meaningful action again until the 68th minute when Allison had to push Juan Quintero's 30-yard effort away.

That attempt came as the hosts looked to up the ante in the final half-hour, but some substitutions provided a response from Brazil, with Raphinha and Paqueta both wasting reasonable chances.

Raphinha threatened again five minutes from time as his wonderful cross picked out fellow substitute Antony, and David Ospina produced a decisive save to deny the Ajax talent the winning goal.


What does it mean? Selecao still in control

Thankfully for Tite and Brazil, their excellent form in qualification prior to Sunday has bought them plenty of room for error – even if Argentina win their game in hand, the Selecao will still be six points clear at the top.

Tite might be a little concerned by the creative lull his team experienced for the middle third of the match, though the options he brought on from the bench were proof of that not being a squad-wide issue as Brazil finished the game well.
 
Raphinha sparkles off the bench

After being brought on for the anonymous Gabriel Barbosa just after the hour, Leeds United winger Raphinha was a real nuisance. He completed two of his three dribbles, picked out a wonderful cross for Antony and had more touches in the opposition's box than every other player, highlighting the positivity he brought. Tite might be wise to start him next time.
 
Quintero unable to brew anything special for Los Cafeteros

With James Rodriguez absent, Quintero was the creator Colombia looked to. While he was not exactly quiet, given his six shots was the most of anyone on the pitch, they were all hopeful – and unsuccessful – efforts from distance. That may have been less frustrating if he had been a creative influence as well, but he did not play a single key pass.
 
What's next?

Both teams still have one more match left of this international window. Brazil host Uruguay on Thursday, while Colombia are at home to Ecuador.

Lionel Messi's long wait for major international honours with Argentina is finally over after playing a starring role in their Copa America triumph, winning the Player of the Tournament prize before the final was even played.

In the age-old – and some might say tiresome – 'greatest of all time' debate, the stick usually used to beat Messi with revolved around his lack of titles with Argentina, but that is no longer relevant and he also played a vital role for La Albiceleste.

It was also an important barrier that Argentina broke down as a team, winning their first major international title since 1993.

Messi's performances see him lead Stats Perform's Opta data-driven Team of the Tournament, and he is joined by some familiar names as well as those who enjoyed breakthroughs over the past month.

 

Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)

Aston Villa keeper Martinez has enjoyed a remarkable 18 months or so and it's fair to say his form at the Copa America has helped truly cement his place as Argentina's first choice between the posts. His personality proved vital in the penalty shoot-out win over Colombia in the semi-finals as he psyched out Yerry Mina, but he also showed his excellence by finishing with an 85.7 per cent save ratio that was the second best in the tournament, while his four clean sheets was the best tally.

 

Right-back – Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)

Cuadrado can always be relied upon to provide some attacking impetus on the right flank and he certainly didn't disappoint in the Copa, his 18 chances created being the most for Colombia and among the top five of all players. The same could be said of his 22 open-play crosses, while Cuadrado also made 45 recoveries, the second most in Los Cafeteros' squad, highlighting how he was often in the right place to sweep up danger as well.

 

Centre-back – Marquinhos (Brazil)

While Brazil ultimately fell short at the Maracana on Saturday, Marquinhos can leave the tournament with his head held high. His ability to bring the ball out from the back was routinely notable, as highlighted by the fact his 110 carries was bettered by only four players, all of whom are forwards, but he was also a commanding presence at the back, with his 2.8 aerial the most among Brazil players.

Centre-back – Piero Hincapie (Ecuador)

Still only 19, Hincapie showed real promise here. Granted, there were signs that he remains quite raw and naive, as demonstrated by some of his struggles against Argentina in the quarter-finals when he was sent off late on for tugging back Angel Di Maria. Nevertheless, the Lazio-linked talent averaged the most passes per game for Ecuador (52.2) and showed real positivity when in possession, carrying the ball 600.7 metres upfield over the course of the tournament, at least 44m more than any other centre-back.

Left-back – Pervis Estupinan (Ecuador)

Estupinan endured a somewhat underwhelming first season with Villarreal in 2020-21, but in the Copa he showed glimpses of the player that had impressed so regularly with Osasuna the season before. He was consistently a useful outlet on the left and his eagerness to create saw him average more crosses per 90 minutes (9.6) than any other player in the tournament, while his 2.4 key passes each game was the most of all defenders.

Central midfield – Wilmar Barrios (Colombia)

The all-action midfielder performed an important function as Colombia ultimately finished third in the Copa. Barrios was tidy in possession as he looked to keep Reinaldo Rueda's men ticking, completing 88 per cent of his passes, but he was also effective at regaining possession and recovering the ball as he started 76 open play sequences, which only Yoshimar Yotun and Casemiro could better.

Central midfield – Rodrigo De Paul (Argentina)

Get ready to hear a bit more about De Paul over the next few years. While he's by no means an unknown given he's had a strong few years with Udinese, the midfielder is set to join Atletico Madrid and offers the blend of off-the-ball nous and technical ability that should see him thrive under Diego Simeone. His 32 ball recoveries led the way for Argentina while his six key passes was second only to Lionel Messi, with one of those being the glorious long-range pass to release Di Maria for the crucial goal in the final.

Right wing – Lionel Messi (Argentina)

While he may have fluffed his lines at the end of the final, Messi's exploits throughout the tournament previously meant he could be forgiven for that. After all, without his unbeaten four goals and five assists – a high for the tournament – Argentina almost certainly wouldn't have reached the showpiece. He remains one goal behind Pele's record (77) for CONMEBOL nations, but he finally has his first trophy with Argentina, and that's what matters most.

 

Attacking midfield – Neymar (Brazil)

Neymar had a peculiar tournament in some ways. No one would suggest he was poor, because he was routinely the player that provided the spark for Brazil, as evidenced by his tournament-leading 3.5 key passes and 21.6 passes into the final third each game (among players with more than one match played), but he was also wasteful in front of goal, his one non-penalty goal from 5.3 xG giving him the worst xG under-performance (4.3) at the tournament.

 

Left wing – Luis Diaz (Colombia)

Porto's Diaz is an exciting player and showed as much for Colombia as they claimed bronze. He scored more non-penalty goals (four) than any other player and produced some spectacular finishes, such as his remarkable bicycle-kick against Brazil and 30-yard screamer to seal victory in the third-place play-off against Peru. His four goals came from just 10 shots, with that 40 per cent conversion the best among those with three or more goals.

 

Striker – Lautaro Martinez (Argentina)

Despite the presence of Sergio Aguero, Martinez was the man generally chosen to lead the line at the Copa and he did fairly well as he netted three goals, with only Messi and Diaz getting more. While he was guilty of wastefulness at times, his three-goal haul was actually pretty close to his 3.3 xG, showing that for the most part he was dependable. Similarly, only two players averaged more shots on target per 90 minutes (players with more than one match played) than his 1.4. He also improved on his two goals from the 2019 edition, so he's seemingly going in the right direction.

Colombia beat Peru 3-2 in the Copa America third-place play-off thanks to a sublime stoppage-time strike from Luis Diaz.

Porto winger Diaz, who had put Colombia 2-1 ahead midway through the second half, settled a thrilling contest in the 94th minute with an exceptional long-range effort.

It came 12 minutes on from Gianluca Lapadula's equaliser, after Juan Cuadrado had cancelled out Yoshimar Yotun's opener, with the match seemingly destined for penalties – Colombia having gone the distance in both previous knockout rounds.

Yet Diaz ensured third place was theirs without the need for such drama, capping off an impressive campaign for Reinaldo Rueda's side, who also gained revenge for a group-stage defeat.

Peru should have gone ahead in the 28th minute – Lapadula to drilling wide when one-on-one with Camilo Vargas.

Carlos Cueva teed up that chance, and Peru's chief creator was at it again on the stroke of half-time, scampering down the left to race onto Sergio Pena's long pass, before cutting inside to find the onrushing Yotun, who made no mistake with an excellent first-time finish.

Peru's lead was short-lived, however, with Cuadrado sneaking in a free-kick at Pedro Gallese's near post to restore parity shortly after the restart.

Diaz had a sighter soon after, with Gallese making the stop, but there was no stopping the pacy wide man in the 66th minute.

Released by Vargas, Diaz took the ball under control with his chest and placed a fine effort into the bottom-right corner, only for Peru to hit back again when Lapadula headed home from Raziel Garcia's corner.

But Diaz had the final say, the 24-year-old driving in from the left and engineering space for a shot 25 yards from goal, sending a wonderful finish into the top corner to seal victory.

What does it mean? Colombia have something to build on

Rueda made a divisive call by leaving posterboy James Rodriguez out of Colombia's squad, though he can at least point to tangible success in Brazil as justification for that decision.

Colombia's focus will now shift to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, though they have lost their last two matches in that competition, winning just one of their four qualifiers so far.

Diaz matches Messi

With his superb double, Diaz joined Lionel Messi – who will lead Argentina against Brazil in the final – at the top of the Copa America scoring charts.

He had four attempts on Friday, all of which hit the target, and he could well be a target for some of Europe's bigger, or wealthier, sides ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

Cueva's efforts prove fruitless

Cueva had a slow start to the tournament, but was at his best in Brasília. He created three chances in total, second only to Colombia's Cuadrado (four).

Had Lapadula taken the first of those opportunities, it may well have been Peru who went on to take the bronze medal.

Lionel Messi hailed "phenomenon" Emiliano Martinez after the Argentina goalkeeper saved three penalties to lead La Albiceleste to the Copa America final.

After Tuesday's semi-final against Colombia ended 1-1 without extra time, Martinez was the hero in the shoot-out, saving penalties from Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona as Argentina earned a blockbuster showdown with defending champions Brazil.

Penalties were needed after Lautaro Martinez's seventh-minute opener was cancelled out by Colombia winger Luis Diaz just past the hour-mark in Brasilia.

Messi will have another chance to claim his first senior international trophy on Saturday as Argentina eye their first title since 1993, and the superstar captain heaped praise on Emiliano Martinez post-game.

"At times it became difficult," said Messi, who provided the assist for Lautaro Martinez and struck the post with nine minutes remaining. "But we have Emi who is a phenomenon.

"We trusted him. We achieved the goal of being able to play every game and now we are going to the final.

"It was very hard, but we deserved it because we wanted it.

"The last cup, the group had already become strong and had left a good image. Now we are going to the final."

Argentina – Copa runners-up in 2015 and 2016 – are in the midst of a 19-match unbeaten streak, dating back to the 2019 semi-final against Brazil at the CONMEBOL tournament.

It is the second longest unbeaten streak among Argentina head coaches, Lionel Scaloni only behind Alfio Basile (33 between 1991 and 1993).

 

"It is a time to celebrate, to enjoy. Tomorrow [Wednesday] we will think about the final," Scaloni told reporters.

"It takes a lot to get here, a lot of work, a lot of time from all the people who accompany us.

"My voice almost broke when talking about this group of players. We have been focused for a long time and they continue to push forward."

Messi finished with a team-high five key passes and a joint team-best three shots against Colombia.

Since 2011, Messi is the Argentina player with the most duels of the ball – averaging 15.7 per game after being involved in 26 in the semi-finals.

"For me, there is no better version of Messi, he is the one that always gives," added Scaloni. "We are very proud of him and of his team-mates."

As for Emiliano Martinez, Scaloni said: "We are very happy with Emiliano's performance, not only because of the penalties, but also because of the security he is transmitting. The group of goalkeepers supports themselves permanently and we like that."

When you take a look at Lionel Messi's trophy cabinet, there isn't much missing.

No player in Barcelona's history has won more titles than Messi at Camp Nou – 10 LaLiga trophies and four Champions League crowns among his club-record haul of 34 pieces of silverware.

That's even before you get to his individual accolades and records… six Ballons d'Or to go with being Barcelona and Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer among other things.

But there is one glaring absence in Messi's trophy cabinet – a senior international title with Argentina. Unlike legendary countryman Diego Maradona and even Portuguese foe Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi has never conquered the international stage.

Regarded as one of, if not, the greatest footballer of all time, yet Messi has often been the bridesmaid and never the bride with La Albiceleste following three runners-up medals at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016, while he was left heartbroken in the 2018 World Cup decider.

Such is the pain, there's also been periods of international retirement for Messi. The 34-year-old debating whether to shoulder the load of another drought-ending quest for Argentina, dating back to the 1993 Copa America.

But, thanks to Emiliano Martinez and his heroics, Messi's coveted dream of international glory remains alive as the superstar prepares for a fifth final in Argentina colours.

 

Martinez saved three penalties in the shoot-out to send Argentina through to Saturday's showpiece against defending champions and rivals Brazil at the iconic Maracana after Tuesday's clash with Colombia ended 1-1.

Argentina goalkeeper Martinez came up big when his country needed him most, saving penalties from Davinson Sanchez, Mina and Edwin Cardona. It was the third shoot-out between Argentina and Colombia in Copa history, with the former winning all of them.

Prior to Martinez's herculean effort, magical Messi had pulled the strings for Argentina.

Messi was brilliant from the outset, the superstar dancing past three players before picking out Lautaro Martinez, but the latter's header sailed just wide of the post in the fourth minute.

Not heeding Messi's initial warning, the most-capped player in Argentina's history did create the opening goal three minutes later – twisting away from Mina before lifting his head to find Lautaro for his fifth assist of this year's tournament.

It was a sign of things to come from Messi, who ended the opening half with a flawless passing accuracy – 100 per cent.

 

As has so often been the case during the tournament, Argentina fell away following a bright start and Colombia were unfortunate not to equalise. However, Messi – unsurprisingly – continued to be at the heart of his team's best moments.

The conductor of Argentina's orchestra, Messi was almost unstoppable – it took a third Colombia defender to hack him down. Messi then saw his shot hit the woodwork with nine minutes remaining.

He finished with a team-high key passes and a joint team-best three shots against Colombia. Since 2011, Messi is the Argentina player with the most duels of the ball – averaging 15.7 per game after being involved in 26 in the semi-finals.

Argentina has been the source of great anguish for Messi. But, Lionel Scaloni's men are riding the wave of 19 matches without defeat, dating back to the 2019 Copa semi against Brazil. It is the second longest unbeaten streak among Argentina head coaches, only behind Alfio Basile (33 between 1991 and 1993).

It seems somewhat fitting that Messi – amid talk of a possible seventh Ballon d'Or – has the chance to cap his remarkable career with an international prize against the Selecao in Rio de Janeiro.

Lionel Messi's Argentina will face Brazil in the Copa America final after overcoming Colombia in a dramatic penalty shoot-out thanks to Emiliano Martinez.

With no extra time, penalties were needed after Luis Diaz equalised in the 61st-minute to cancel out Lautaro Martinez's first-half opener in Brasilia on Tuesday.

Emiliano Martinez was the hero in the shoot-out after the Argentina goalkeeper saved three spot-kicks to send the 14-time Copa winners – eyeing their first major title since 1993 – through to Sunday's blockbuster decider against defending champions Brazil.

Messi, who is craving his first senior crown with La Albiceleste, was brilliant from the outset, the superstar dancing past three players before picking out Lautaro Martinez, but the latter's header sailed just wide of the post in the fourth minute.

Martinez got his goal three minutes later, however, after drilling home past David Ospina – Messi with the presence of mind to twist away from Yerry Mina before lifting his head and finding the Inter star.

Colombia almost celebrated an immediate response, though Emiliano Martinez was on hand to deny Juan Cuadrado – earning his 100th cap – just moments later.

As has so often been the case during the tournament, Argentina fell away following a bright start and Colombia were unfortunate not to equalise.

Colombia came within a whisker of restoring parity in the 37th minute, hitting the woodwork twice within seconds after Mina's header rattled the crossbar from the resulting corner following Wilmar Barrios' deflected shot that struck the post.

On the stroke of half-time, Argentina went close to doubling their lead after Nicolas Gonzalez's header was narrowly pushed onto the roof of the net by Ospina.

Colombia responded well to falling behind and they were eventually rewarded via Diaz's equaliser just past the hour-mark.

Diaz got in behind Argentina's defence following a quick free-kick and the winger somehow managed to beat Emiliano Martinez from an acute angle as Lionel Scaloni's men were caught napping.

Colombia were fortunate to still be on level terms when Ospina came flying out of his penalty area as substitute Angel Di Maria charged through, but Barrios was on hand to make the last-ditch goal-line block, denying Lautaro Martinez in the 73rd minute.

Messi then saw his shot hit the woodwork with nine minutes remaining during a tense finale as the showdown headed to penalties.

Colombia will look to pull off an upset and reach the Copa America final for the first time outside of their country when they take on a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina on Tuesday.

Los Cafeteros have lost their six previous semi-finals at neutral venues in the competition, with their only two final appearances – in 1975 and 2001 – seeing them play at least one game on home soil.

Reinaldo Rueda's side beat Uruguay on penalties in the quarter-finals – David Ospina saving two spot-kicks in the shoot-out – following a goalless draw after 90 minutes.

A tough match with Argentina in Brasilia awaits and Rueda, who was only reappointed by Colombia in January, is happy with the progress made by his side in that short period.

"We played a very collective game against Uruguay, with a lot of solidarity and the right balance," he said. "All this helps us believe that we can continue with our improvements.

"We will continue to demand more and more from ourselves in each session before the next game."

If Colombia are to have any hope of overcoming Argentina, they will need to do something Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile failed to do by keeping Messi quiet.

He leads the Copa America scoring charts with four goals, including a fine free-kick in the quarter-final win over Ecuador, while also providing a competition-high four assists. 

Messi has never previously won a trophy with Argentina, and that remains the superstar forward's main focus ahead of Tuesday's semi-final showdown.

"I've always said that individual prizes are secondary. We're here for something else," he said. "We have an objective and we're focused on that."

Argentina squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Colombia in their most recent meeting just last month, a game that is still fresh in Messi's memory.

"They denied us in a match that we had under control. That's why we can't take this for granted," Messi added. "We have to play our game and keep hold of the ball."

 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina - Lionel Messi

With his four goals and four assists so far, Messi has been involved in 80 per cent of Argentina's 10 goals at this edition of the Copa America.

He may not be focused on individual honours, but he is now just one short of Brazil great Pele's all-time goals record (77) for a South American country.

Colombia - Juan Cuadrado

The versatile Juventus winger missed his side's quarter-final with Uruguay after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage, but he is back in contention to face Argentina.

While Cuadrado may not have a goal or assist to his name yet this tournament, he remains one of Colombia's most dangerous players and his fresh legs could come in handy.


KEY OPTA FACTS

- Argentina and Colombia will face each other for the third time in the Copa America semi-finals. The first meeting was in 1993, when Argentina won on penalties, and the second one was in 2004 with another win for Argentina. 

- The last time these sides faced each other in the Copa America was in 2019 with a 2-0 win for Colombia.

- Argentina have failed to progress from just one of their last six Copa America semi-finals: against Brazil in 2019 (a 2-0 loss). Argentina have never played a Copa America final on Brazilian soil.

- Colombia are the team with the most recoveries (306), interceptions (74) and fouls conceded (78, alongside Paraguay) in the current Copa America.

David Ospina made two saves in the penalty shoot-out to lift Colombia past Uruguay and into the Copa America semi-finals on Saturday.

After both sides went scoreless in normal time, Los Cafeteros converted on all four of their penalties while veteran Ospina saved attempts from Jose Gimenez and Matias Vina.

That left Colombia to celebrate their triumph in a hard-fought, physical encounter in Brasilia after Los Cafeteros had struggled into the quarter-finals.

Uruguay entered the quarter-finals having won two games in a row, while Colombia had been defeated in their final two group-stage games.

After waiting 10 days since their last game, Colombia looked the more energetic side in the opening half, out-shooting Uruguay 4-1 but Fernando Muslera had little to do in the Uruguay net.

Luis Muriel fired wide on an open look just prior to half-time, minutes after sending a free kick from a dangerous spot over.

Colombia's momentum carried over to the second half, as Luis Diaz drove straight to the Uruguay goal in the opening seconds but could not get a clear look.

Uruguay's first dangerous chance came in the 50th minute, when Nahitan Nandez curled a ball in from the right side that caught Ospina off-balance, but the goalkeeper acrobatically tipped the ball away from the top corner.

Colombia came close in the 73rd minute as Rafael Borre's cross from the right side found Duvan Zapata, but Muslera parried away the header from eight yards.

Both sides charged forward at every opportunity in the final 15 minutes but neither came close to scoring as Colombia kept Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani at bay throughout.

It was the fourth consecutive Copa America quarter-final for Colombia in which the game was scoreless in regulation.

Uruguay face Colombia in the Copa America quarter-finals in Brasilia on Saturday buoyed by recent form that could see them challenge for the trophy again.

La Celeste are the most successful side in the competition's history with 15 wins but their last came 10 years ago when they beat Paraguay in the final in Buenos Aires.

Their 2021 campaign began inauspiciously with defeat to Argentina and a draw with Chile, but consecutive wins over Bolivia and Paraguay secured their place in the quarter-finals.

They may only have scored once through Edinson Cavani's first-half penalty, but Oscar Tabarez's men fired in 18 shots in their previous game and 22 in the win over Bolivia. Those are the most they have attempted against South American sides in this competition since they lifted the trophy a decade ago.

Uruguay are also on a run of consecutive victories at the same finals for the first time since 2011 and are beginning to look a far more confident side than the one that scored only once in five competitive games from November 2020 until June 21 this year.

By contrast, Colombia have failed to build on their opening win over Ecuador. A disappointing stalemate with Venezuela was followed by a 2-1 defeat to Peru, before they then lost to Brazil via the same scoreline after a late Casemiro winner settled a controversial clash in Rio de Janeiro.

Their previous meeting with Uruguay at this tournament was in the third-place play-off in 2004, in which they lost 2-1. Prior to that, their last victory over these opponents was in September 1975, when they won the first leg of their semi-final tie 3-0.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Edinson Cavani

With two goals in two games, Cavani is the primary reason Uruguay have reached this stage and he is likely to be pivotal to their hopes of progressing further.

The Manchester United striker needs one goal to make this his most productive Copa America campaign.

Colombia – Yerry Mina

If Colombia are to keep Uruguay's attack quiet, they will need an imperious performance from centre-back Yerry Mina.

The Everton man has won 20 aerial duels at this year's finals, the most of any player.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Uruguay have registered four wins, one draw and one defeat in their previous six meetings with Colombia at the Copa America.
- This will be the second quarter-final meeting between these sides in this competition. The previous clash was in 1993: after a 1-1 draw, Los Cafeteros advanced to the next round on penalties.
- Uruguay have lost only one of their past nine games at the Copa America (W5 D3). They have two consecutive victories, something they have not achieved in the same edition of the tournament since 2011, when they ended up becoming champions.
- Uruguay and Paraguay are the only teams that have not conceded goals in the second half of their matches at this year's Copa America.

A quick glance on Twitter and the trending topics in Colombia and Brazil would give you a rough idea of what transpired in Rio de Janeiro.

Pitana, Ospina, Colombia, Brazil and Copa America were among the trending names and words via social media after controversy marred the Selecao's 2-1 victory on Wednesday.

Reigning Copa America champions Brazil completed a stunning comeback in the 100th minute thanks to Casemiro's last-gasp header, but Colombia were still seething from an incident in the 78th minute.

Roberto Firmino's equaliser with 12 minutes of regulation time remaining came after the ball deflected off referee Nestor Pitana in the build-up – the official allowing play to continue rather than call for a drop-ball, leading to lengthy protests from goalkeeper David Ospina and Colombia.

The goal stood, even after a VAR review.

But amid the Copa chaos, Brazil head coach Tite added to his growing legacy.

While Brazil had their run of six consecutive clean sheets ended, a streak dating back to October 2020, the Selecao extended their winning streak to 10 consecutive games.

Casemiro's goal – officially timed at 99:22, the latest recorded 90th-minute goal in a Copa fixture since Arturo Vidal scored for Chile against Bolivia in 2016 at 99:48, sealed top spot in Group B with one game remaining while preserving a 100 per cent record at this year's tournament on home soil.

It saw Tite surpass his own record with Brazil.

With wins over Colombia, Peru (twice), Venezuela (twice), Paraguay, Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia and South Korea, Tite exceeded his previous winning streak of nine straight games (in 2016) at the helm of the Selecao.

Tite was influential on the sidelines as Brazil bounced back from Luis Diaz's stunning and acrobatic 10th-minute opener.

He introduced Renan Lodi and Firmino – the pair were involved for Brazil's second-half equaliser against Colombia.

At the end of the encounter, Tite passed Sebastiao Lazaroni as the second coach with the most Copa America matches without defeats – eight to seven.

Legendary former coach Mario Zagallo – who won two World Cups as a player and one while in charge of Brazil, holds the record, having not tasted defeated in 12 appearances at the CONMEBOL tournament.

Since being appointed in 2016, Tite has overseen 43 wins, 10 draws and four defeats.

Controversy or not, the Tite train rolls on in pursuit of back-to-back Copa crowns.

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