With the CONMEBOL Copa America group stages concluded and with each of City’s representatives still in the competition, the quarter-finals beckoned. Brazil looked to win the competition on home soil whilst Argentina having been runners-up in the previous two editions of the tournament, look to go one better in 2019. In the first quarter-final of the tournament, Brazil faced Venezuela and by the skin of their teeth, Seleção survived what would have been an embarrassing early exit from the competition. Brazil was the far better team throughout the game registering 26 shots and 71% possession; however, Brazil was unable to convert their dominance into a goal and following a goalless draw, Brazil needed to win a penalty shoot-out in order to reach the semi-finals.
Manchester City’s Ederson was once again benched in favour of Alisson Becker, however, the Liverpool ‘keeper kept a fourth consecutive Copa America clean sheet and saved a penalty in the shoot-out to justify his place in the team. The injured Fernandinho again missed out on a place in the squad, whereas Gabriel Jesus retained his place in the starting XI. With Bobby Firmino in good form, and Brazil’s natural wingers performing poorly in their opening two games, Gabriel Jesus once again played on the right wing and City’s new number 9 performed well throughout the game.
Following the 90 minutes, the game went straight to penalties and Brazil made a strong start with Alisson saving the first penalty that he faced, following several successful spot-kicks, Bobby Firmino missed his penalty but Paraguay’s Derlis González then failed to take advantage with a dreadful miss. With nine of ten penalties taken, City’s Gabriel Jesus stepped up to take Brazil’s final penalty and was tasked with scoring the decisive spot-kick to send Brazil through to the semi-finals, under intense pressure, Jesus sent the Paraguayan ‘keeper the wrong way. Considering that the City striker failed to score his penalty in Brazil’s final group game against Peru, Jesus showed tremendous character in remaining calm and composed whilst the eyes of a continent were upon him. However, fortunately for Jesus and Brazil, he was able to convert the penalty cueing emphatic celebrations and a collective sigh of relief across Brazil.
Gabriel Jesus once again turned in a tireless, lively performance and worked very hard throughout the game, however, the City striker’s excellent work-rate and sheer effort failed to result in any kind of end product. Nevertheless, Jesus’ energetic performance against Paraguay more than warrants his continued position in the starting XI and yet another good performance for Brazil combined with the poor form of some of Brazil’s other attacking options means that Jesus looks set to once again start for Brazil in their upcoming semi-final.
Argentina showed slight improvement but was far from convincing as they defeated Venezuela 2-0 to advance to the semi-finals. Throughout the game, Argentina was incapable of controlling possession for long periods and they were often overrun and unable to control the midfield. Argentina opened the scoring in the tenth minute courtesy of a clever finish by Lautaro Martínez, and for the second game running, the Inter Milan forward has scored an early goal to give La Albiceleste the lead. Argentina’s second goal came courtesy of a horrific blunder by Venezuelan goalkeeper Wuilker Faríñez, Sergio Aguero’s powerful shot was spilled by Faríñez and 2nd half substitute Giovani Lo Celso was quick to capitalise on the goalkeeper’s error, slotting the ball into an empty net. In contrast to Faríñez, Argentina’s Franco Armani wasn’t found wanting when he was called upon, as he kept a consecutive clean sheet to ensure that Argentina advanced to the semi-finals.
Nicolas Otamendi once again started for Argentina, and the City defender enjoyed his best performance of the tournament so far, Argentina’s full-backs performed poorly and looked vulnerable throughout the game meaning Otamendi had to perform very well given his lack of defensive support. Throughout the 90 minutes, Otamendi was strong in the air and composed in possession, the Argentine played very well as he superbly anticipated Paraguayan attacking plays and was paramount in Argentina keeping a clean sheet in an important game.
Sergio Aguero kept his place in the starting XI, however, the City striker turned in a rather subdued performance, Argentina’s poor build-up play throughout the 90 minutes meant that Aguero had limited opportunities to make his mark upon the game, however, Aguero continued to link up well with Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria. Aguero was substituted in the 85th minute for Paulo Dybala, and despite a poor performance by his very high standards, Aguero is likely to retain his place in La Albiceleste starting XI.
Argentina and Brazil will face each other in a mouth-watering semi-final, however, both teams have majorly underperformed at the tournament, and have often struggled to find the back of the net. Despite their star-studded team, Brazil failed to score against both Paraguay and Venezuela, whereas Argentina failed to score past Columbia and needed a controversial penalty to score against Paraguay. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus have mostly played well throughout the tournament and are both are likely to retain their places in their respective nation’s starting XI’s. In what is sure to be a griping semi-final the two City strikers are set to face off in the hope that one of them can fire their team into the final, whilst the other will exit the tournament disappointed.