Brazil and Argentina, the two footballing juggernauts of South America met in the first semi-final of the CONMEBOL Copa America and what followed was a feisty encounter between two of the greatest footballing nations.
Argentina had reached the previous two Copa America finals and desired to make it 3 in-a-row whereas Brazil longed to reach their first final since a victorious campaign in 2007. With Brazil playing on home soil and facing their fiercest rivals, this was a game that Seleção desperately did not want to lose, however, given their excellent defensive record and Argentina’s fluctuating form, they went into the game firm favourites being backed by thousands of emphatic Brazilian supporters in a home-game-like atmosphere. Manchester City was well represented in the match with Argentine duo Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero both retaining their places in the Argentinian starting XI, whilst Gabriel Jesus again started for Brazil as Ederson and Fernandinho watched on from the bench.
Following excellent performances in his previous starts, Gabriel Jesus retained his place as Brazil’s right-winger and with Jesus showing himself to be a potent threat in previous games, Argentina looked to neutralize Jesus early-on. In Argentina’s bid to hinder Jesus’ influence, the Brazilian was subject to several needlessly hard challenges early in the game and Argentine left-back Nicolás Tagliafico received an early booking following a reckless challenge on the Brazilian. Despite being targeted by the Argentine defence, Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring in the 19th minute after being squared the ball by Liverpool’s Bobby Firmino following some excellent play by Dani Alves, the goal was Jesus’ first at a major tournament for Brazil and the City striker couldn’t have picked a better time to open his account.
Gabriel Jesus was later instrumental in Brazil doubling their lead with 20 minutes remaining, the City striker received the ball midway into his own half following a Brazil clearance and with his first touch, he chested the ball into space allowing him to control the ball. Jesus demonstrated his blistering pace and exquisite ball-control as he ran with the ball for over 75 yards, taking on 3 players before a great pass that effectively put the ball on a plate for Firmino who merely had to tap the ball into an open net. Jesus was very lively throughout the game and was a constant nuisance and threat to the Argentine backline. Gabriel Jesus and Firmino continued to combine effectively in the final third and following his excellent performance, Gabriel Jesus was substituted in the 80th minute for Napoli midfielder Allan, as City’s number 9 left the field, he received a standing ovation from the Brazil fans in recognition of his outstanding performance.
Whilst Brazil was the better team, Argentina arguably had their best performance of the tournament, the Argentines were stronger defensively than in previous games and offered more going forward. Sergio Aguero had a decent game and looked dangerous when afforded the opportunity, and with the game at 1-0 in the first half, City striker Sergio Aguero hit the bar with a looping header from a Messi free-kick, Allison looked to be beaten for the first time throughout the tournament, however, he was saved by the crossbar. City’s Nicolas Otamendi played well, and for most of the game the centre-back looked solid defensively, that was of course until Gabriel Jesus embarrassed his City teammate leaving Otamendi grounded prior to providing an excellent assist for Brazil’s second goal. Late in the game, Argentina was denied an obvious penalty when during an Argentine corner kick, Otamendi was intentionally and brutally caught in the throat by the forearm of Brazil’s Arthur, but rather oddly, the incident wasn’t reviewed by VAR.
Following their defeat, City’s Argentinian blues are headed home, but considering their appalling start to the competition, La Albiceleste were perhaps fortunate to even make it to the semi-final stage. Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi each had their share of positive and negative moments, however, City’s Argentine duo was far from the worst Argentina players at the tournament, which says a lot about the dire state of the current Argentina national team.
After firing Brazil to the semi-final thanks to the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Paraguay, Gabriel Jesus continued to serve his country well as the City striker was instrumental in Brazil defeating Argentina to reach the final. Throughout the 2019 Copa America, Jesus has more than lived up to his reputation as Sergio Aguero’s heir as City’s first-choice striker and the Brazilian looks set to strongly challenge Aguero in the upcoming campaign, however before that, Gabriel Jesus will expect to start for Brazil in the Copa America final as they look to win the competition for a ninth time.