This is the game that stops everything in South America. The two giants on the continent, Brazil and Argentina, will play each other in the Copa America final on Sunday (02:00 CET).

Messi and Emiliano Martinez
Messi and Emiliano Martinez celebrate after Argentina beat Colombia in a dramatic penalty shootout to reach the final at Copa America. (Image: Twitter/CopaAmerica)

After Brazil narrowly beat Peru 1-0 in the first semifinal on Tuesday, Argentina faced a fierce game against Colombia. Lautaro Martinez opened the scoring for Argentina after seven minutes, but Luis Diaz equalized in the second half (’61). The tie couldn’t be decided over 120 minutes of football, so it went to penalties. Argentina won the shootout 3-2.

The Brazil vs. Argentina clash will be taken to another level by the confrontation between Neymar and Messi, arguably the most prominent players on the two teams. They are good friends off the pitch and never hesitate to show appreciation for one another whenever the chance comes around. On Sunday, however, the two superstars will wear the flags of their national teams at the Maracana.

Messi and Neymar dominate the stats

Messi shone throughout the competition, leading the stats in terms of goals, stats, number of shots, chances created, and dribbles. After scoring one goal and assisting two others in front of Ecuador in the quarterfinals, Messi helped Lautaro score against Colombia in the semis. He now has four goals and six assists to his name. Neymar seconds him in almost every chapter, having himself netted three times and assisted another three.

A triumph at Copa America might put Messi in front of his competitors in the race for the Ballon d’Or. The 34-year-old saw Mbappe, Kante, Ronaldo, Lewandowski, and De Bruyne all eliminated from Euro 2020. Argentina winning with a key contribution from Messi would definitely place him above the competition, basically putting into shade their performances at the club level.

For those still in the chase of the cup at the Euros, none seems to have done enough at the club level to trouble Messi in the race to a seventh Ballon.

Emiliano Martinez - Argentina
Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez flies to stop a penalty in the shootout which decided the semi-final against Colombia. (Image: Twitter/Argentina)

Messi about keeper Martinez: ‘He’s a phenomenon’

In the shootout that decided Argentina’s advancement to the Copa America final, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez stopped three penalties to put a big smile on Messi and his colleagues’ faces. The Aston Villa keeper was highly praised by Messi after the game.

“We have Emi, who is a phenomenon,” Messi said. “We trust him. Our goal was to play all the games and now we are going to the final.”

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni concurred, saying “We are very happy with Emiliano’s performance. It’s not just because of the penalties, but also because of the safety, we feel with him in goal.”

Having played three finals at Copa America, Messi has yet to win the trophy. He’s not favored to do so this time, either, as the bookies have Brazil at -190 to win the final, with Argentina at +150. Messi is at the top of the list when it comes to winning the tournament’s Golden Boot, which is given to the highest goalscorer. He’s at -833, with Neymar at +2000.