Age is just a number! Dani Alves rolls back the years to take down Messi and Argentina
The PSG full-back continues to defy his 36 years as he led the Selecao into the final of the Copa America on Tuesday
Lionel Messi had his moments, but ultimately the battle of two Barcelona idols finished with one clear winner.
Dani Alves and Messi led their teams out in Brazil’s 2-0 Copa America victory over Argentina, with the former coming up with a sublime performance to lead his team from the back and put the Selecao just 90 minutes from glory on home soil.
Let not the relatively equal historical standings of South America’s two biggest nations fool you. Brazil and Argentina went into Tuesday’s Superclasico in vastly diverging states.
Tite’s men have been drilled and moulded by their coach over the last three years into a formidable unit, tasting defeat in competitive matches just twice since the former Corinthians man took over from Dunga in the wake of the 2016 Copa Centenario debacle.
The new names on the team-sheet, such as Everton and Arthur, have slotted effortlessly into a team that knows what they are doing on the field and act accordingly. Argentina by contrast are very much a work in progress.
That gulf in preparation and quality showed early on. Brazil harried incessantly from the very start, a swarm of furious, genetically enhanced yellow and blue bees to give the Albiceleste a torrid opening in Belo Horizonte. Starved of time on the ball, Lionel Scaloni’s charges nevertheless showed a dogged attitude to keep Everton, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus away from danger.
With Everton inserted firmly and safely in the pocket of the towering Juan Foyth, a revelation at right-back, it was down the other flank that Brazil made the breakthrough. Needless to say, perhaps, Alves, impossibly fresh and motivated even at 36 and coming off a harrowing run of injuries, was the inspiration.
Gaining possession off Lautaro Martinez in the middle of the pitch the PSG star cut a swathe through the Argentina backline, which paid the price for a moment of absent-mindedness. Firmino was lying in wait on the right and rolled the ball into the area, where Jesus was waiting with glee to break a 600-minute competitive goal drought and open the scoring.
That could have been the cue for Argentina to fold. But to the underdogs’ credit they kept up the pressure on their hosts, who failed to capitalise on the goal advantage, and if not for some rotten luck and the woodwork could well have fought back into the game.
Aguero saw a header rebound off the crossbar to safety, before Messi – much-improved from the rather disappointing figure seen in the early rounds – rattled Alisson’s left-hand post with a savage shot. The Selecao seemed to be content with the slimmest of winning margins, ready and waiting to take advantage should the opportunity arise.
Sure enough, such a chance fell into their laps 20 minutes from time. With the entire Argentina team protesting over a supposed foul on Aguero, at the other end Jesus was speeding towards goal with almost zero resistance. After turning Manchester City team-mate Nicolas Otamendi in knots he squared selflessly to return the favour for Firmino as Franco Armani scrambled helplessly across his exposed net.
The night, however, belonged to Alves. First Marcos Acuna and later Angel Di Maria tried and failed to best the old warrior, who was a constant headache to Argentina on his raids forward while barely putting a foot wrong when the time came to defend.
What other right-back, for example, could double up as their side’s primary playmaker? Alves notched up more passes than anyone else on the Brazil team, 30 more than even Arthur in the middle. He is crucial to this team, and when he plays – as against Peru – he seems to lift the whole squad up with him.
Alves and Messi were the only two survivors left in Belo Horizonte from the last time Brazil met Argentina in a major finals. In 2007 the full-back came off the bench to score the third in a 3-0 trouncing of Messi’s men, marking the first of four finals in which the Barcelona wizard has ended on the losing side for his country.
Twelve years later, Leo gave his all for an Argentina team that are still in the process of development, but it was not quite enough. It is Alves who will go on to the final and the chance to win the silverware Brazil covet so dearly, a fitting outcome for a player who has rolled back the years at this Copa to fire his side forward.
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