In the 19th minute, there he was.
Showing determination and athleticism to win a loose ball in midfield, Dani Alves drove towards goal and fed a perfect pass into the stride of Roberto Firmino, whose low cross was easily dispatched by Gabriel Jesus for the opening goal.
In the 90th minute, there he was again.
With Brazil looking to close out the final few seconds and Argentina pressing hard to give themselves a lifeline, Alves gathered possession inside his own half and sped forward, drawing a foul on the halfway line to relieve the pressure and take a few more seconds off the clock.
From the first minute until the last, Brazil skipper Alves was absolutely everywhere on Tuesday night.
The stats speak for themselves: he had 112 touches, 44 more than any other Brazilian player (Arthur) and 21 more than any Argentine (Leandro Paredes). He also made that possession count, embarking upon a team-high five dribbles and delivering three crosses into the box, while also fulfilling his defensive duties with three tackles, two clearances and one interception.
Beyond the numbers, though, Alves was even more important for his role as Brazil’s spiritual heartbeat. In a team which can look one-paced and predictable, he added a much-needed spark of drive and dynamism to lift his team-mates, energise the home crowd and deflate the opposition. He was, to borrow his own personal social media catchphrase, ‘good crazy’.
All of this, of course, came from a man who is now 36-years-old and has already won nearly everything there is to win (the World Cup is the only major miss) over the course a sensational career.
In fact, he has won more than practically every other player in history, bagging a ‘good crazy’ total of 41 honours, including multiple league titles with Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, three Champions League crowns with Barca, the Europa League with Sevilla and Copa America with Brazil in 2007.
Pretty impressive. The craziest thing about Alves right now, though, is that he is currently a free agent, having announced last month that he will not renew his contract with PSG.
That’s right: one of the most decorated players in history, who has just delivered a man of the match performance while captaining Brazil to the Copa America final, is available on a free transfer. It’s the steal of the summer, and Europe’s big guns must be lining up to knock on his door with pre-prepared contracts only requiring his signature on the dotted line.
Of course, there is the caveat of his age. It would be entirely unrealistic to expect a player who will be 37 before the end of next season to excel as a week-in, week-out starter. His total of 32 appearances across all competitions for PSG last season is probably more or less his limit. So whoever signs Alves next will also need to have another right-back on board to share playing time.
In modern top-level football, though, that is pretty much a given. Challenging for major honours in top competitions over the course of nine months requires deep squads, and only goalkeepers and perhaps central defenders can be expected to play nearly every game.
In any case, Alves showed on Tuesday night that he still possesses phenomenal levels of fitness, finding the energy at the end of a very long season to constantly charge up and down the sidelines and power Brazil’s victory over Argentina as he closes in on yet another title.
Sure, the absence of a transfer fee means that Alves will command a massive signing-on bonus, and he would also expect to be a high earner. But his qualities – technical, physical and intangible – are rarely available elsewhere, and the added element of his vast experience makes him a cheap short-term option whatever the price.
🇧🇷 Zizinho 33— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) 3 July 2019
🇧🇷 Taffarel 25
🇧🇷 Djalma Santos 22
🇧🇷 Roberto Carlos 21
🇧🇷 DANI ALVES 18
Dani Alves se metió en el quinto lugar entre los jugadores que más duelos disputaron para Brasil en #CopaAmérica.
Barcelona have never succeeded in replacing him, and there’s a strong logical argument that the Camp Nou club should simply give up in their efforts to do so and just bring him back for a glorious swansong.
However, Alves left Barca on very poor terms with the club’s board, who will be highly reluctant to now welcome him back, so that option looks unlikely.
Manchester City have come close to signing Alves in the past, and the English champions are another possibility this time, especially if they do not secure Joao Cancelo from Juventus – there could certainly be no better role model or teacher for Kyle Walker. There may also be a move to a different new country with Bayern Munich, who would find Alves’ experience a major asset in their rebuilding process.
Alternatively, Alves could choose to cash in by ending his career with a lucrative stint in China, and that appears to be the most likely conclusion according to experts.
That, though, would be a shame. Alves, to be frank, is better than that, and his star showing for Brazil on Tuesday shows that he still had a huge amount to offer at the highest level. Alves might be old, but he’s still gold.
Brazil booked a place in the Copa America final with a hard-earned 2-0 victory over fierce rivals Argentina in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday night.
It was not a particularly convincing performance from the hosts, with Argentina more than holding their own and regularly threatening an equaliser when the scoreline was 1-0, including efforts against the woodwork from Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi.
But Brazil succeeded where Argentina failed by converting two of their very few clear chances on the night, and will now await the winners of Chile versus Peru as they seek their first Copa America triumph since 2007.
Ahead of Sunday’s final, though, Brazil know they can play much, much better.
Brazil leave room for improvement
Brazil will be breathing a big sigh of relief after overcoming a strong and spirited Argentina display, but Canarinho will know their overall performance left a lot of room for improvement.
Gabriel Jesus’ opening goal was the only real chance created in the first half by Brazil, and manager Tite’s dissatisfaction with his team’s efforts was made plain by his decision to replace winger Everton during the interval, bringing on Chelsea veteran Willian in an attempt to find more attacking fluency and penetration.
It made little difference as Argentina continued to seize the initiative, prompting some whistles from the Belo Horizonte crowd towards their own players as the visiting team continued to press for an equaliser.
Only after Jesus led a brilliant counter-attack to set up the second goal for Roberto Firmino – completely against the run of play – did Brazil look at all comfortable.
Frustrated Argentina lost their way in the latter stages and the hosts survived without real difficulty from that moment, but their lacklustre performance over the opening 70 minutes means they can take nothing for granted ahead of Sunday’s final, with a particular need for more fluency and control in midfield.
Optimism restored for Argentina?
With the decision of Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni to send out the same players who started in the quarter-final against Venezuela, La Albiceleste were lining up with an unchanged team for the first time in 40 games.
That growing sense of familiarity and shared strategy allowed Argentina to make a bright and confident start, firing in the first shot of the game with a long-range missile from Leandro Paredes which flew inches over the bar.
Even though Brazil then took the lead, Argentina were not rattled and continued to employ a methodical and constructive approach, coming within inches of an equaliser when Aguero’s header from a Messi free-kick hit the bar with Alisson well beaten.
Although they couldn’t make a comeback as Messi was also denied by the post, the progress made by Argentina during this competition suggests that – for the first time since the 2016 Copa America final defeat against Chile – their future is looking bright.
Now the chief decision facing the country’s federation is whether to retain Scaloni, who is only currently coaching the team in a caretaker capacity. On this evidence, he should be made a permanent appointment.
What now for Messi?
Argentina’s exit will naturally be headlined as another failure on the international stage for Messi, who was unable to produce match-winning heroics despite a much-improved performance from his earlier tepid outings in the competition.
In particular, one brilliant burst towards the end of the first half was vintage Messi, as he snaked away from two challenges on the halfway line and dribbled goalwards before releasing a well-weighted pass to Aguero, whose low shot was blocked. He was also extremely unlucky to be denied by the upright from a crunching half-volley, and certainly does not deserve to be reprimanded for his team’s failure to advance on this occasion.
From a wider perspective, the more collective approach employed by Argentina was greatly beneficial to Messi, who was allowed to pick the right moments to exert and impose himself rather than being the team’s sole raison d’etre, and he must be encouraged by La Albiceleste’s general direction as he looks to the future.
Aside from a brief ‘retirement’ in 2016, Messi has always remained loyal to the Argentine cause despite many opportunities to quit. And with his country set to co-host next year’s Copa America, he surely won’t give up now.
Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino provided the one-two punch as Brazil booked their place in the Copa America Final, but the hosts needed a fair amount of fortune as Argentina twice hit the woodwork through Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi.
Argentina dominated long phases of the game but couldn’t quite force the goals they deserved, and there were some mixed performances within the Brazilian ranks as they advanced to the final.
Check out how everyone fared with our full player ratings.
Alisson 6. Hurt himself attempting to stop Aguero’s header against the bar, but recovered to give a solid display.
Alves 9. A hugely impressive action-packed and tireless display, including brilliant work to spark the move for the opener.
Marquinhos 6. Made a key block from Aguero’s first half shot and just about survived a tough test before being injured.
Silva 7. Had a far from easy encounter as Argentina mounted sustained pressure, but showed leadership and calm authority.
Sandro 6. Balanced Alves’s swashbuckling style by focussing on defence, keeping an eye on Messi’s incursions from the flank.
Casemiro 5. Aggressive presence in midfield, but he didn’t always protect his defence and offered little with the ball.
Arthur 5. Struggled to impose himself as Argentina controlled much of the possession. Had a 20-yard snapshot easily saved.
Jesus 8. Easily Brazil’s best attacker, sweeping home the first goal from close range and making a thrilling run to set up the second.
Coutinho 5. Produced some moments of class but squandered possession too easily, and stabbed a good chance over the top.
Everton 4. Barely had a kick during a very disappointing first half, and was replaced by Willian during the interval.
Firmino 7. Perfect cross to assist the opener and added the second on a breakaway. Classy display to lead the line.
Willian 5. A half-time introduction for Everton, he worked hard defensively but had little impact at the other end.
Miranda 6. Replaced the injured Marquinhos for the last half-hour. Solid enough to stem the threat of Aguero and Martinez.
Allan 6. A late replacement for match-winner Jesus, and helped run down the clock by keeping hold of the ball.
Armani 6. Had no chance with either goal and was commanding with everything else Brazil threw at him – which wasn’t much.
Foyth 6. Caught napping for the second goal after largely holding his own at right-back, without offering much attacking threat.
Pezzella 6. Less dominant inside the penalty area than previous games, finding it hard against Firmino’s clever movement.
Otamendi 6. Made some key interventions but often looked on the verge of a disaster, and was beaten for both goals.
Tagliafico 5. Had a tough night against Brazil’s strong combination of Alves and Jesus, often looking vulnerable at the back.
De Paul 7. Strong presence on the right, contributing plenty in defence and attack. Blasted a decent chance over the bar.
Paredes 7. Came close with a 30-yard piledriver and gave an assertive performance in front of his back four, using the ball well.
Acuna 5. Battled away down the left but lacked quality on the ball. Second best in his duel with Alves and replaced.
Messi 7. By far his brightest performance of the tournament, creating two chances for Aguero and crashing a shot against the post.
Martinez 6. Worked hard to link play with good mobility and movement, and had a half-hit volley saved by Alisson.
Aguero 6. Hit the bar with a header from a free-kick and had another shot blocked. Worked hard but couldn’t find a way through.
Di Maria 5. Came on for Acuna after an hour but unable to offer much down the left, other than one dangerous cross.
Lo Celso 5. Intended to add creativity to the midfield, but Brazil scored soon after his introduction and he made little difference.
Dybala 6. A last and desperate throw of the dice in the latter stages, he tried to add a spark but it was too late.