Pressure on Brazil and Argentina ahead of Copa draw

By AFP: Thursday, January 24th 2019 at 10:36 GMT +3 | Football
Argentina's Lionel Messi waits to receive the second place medal during the Copa America Centenario awards ceremony in East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States, on June 26, 2016 [Courtesy]

They may boast seven World Cup victories between them and two of the game’s biggest stars in Lionel Messi and Neymar, but Argentina and hosts Brazil will be under immense pressure when the Copa America begins in June.

First, they have a nerve-wracking wait ahead of today’s draw in Rio de Janeiro to see who they will face in the group stages.

Argentina haven’t lifted a major tournament trophy in 26 years and while it has only been a dozen years for hosts Brazil, the trauma of their 2014 World Cup humiliation on home soil is still fresh in their collective memory.

The 7-1 thrashing inflicted by Germany in the semi-finals left a wound that only trophies could heal.

The two South American giants can ill afford a false step in such a competitive tournament.

Brazil failed to even make it out of the group stages last time around, their only victory coming against Haiti, while a 1-0 defeat to Peru sent them packing.

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They haven’t gone beyond the quarter-finals since last lifting the trophy in 2007.

As for Argentina, they have lost four of the last five finals, three of those in penalty shoot-outs, meaning Barcelona great Messi has never won a major international honour with his country.

Messi’s participation is far from certain, though, as he hasn’t played for his country since Argentina were dumped out of the World Cup at the last 16 stage in Russia by eventual winners France.

They have played six friendlies since then, but Messi has stayed in Barcelona each time, allegedly to rest.

“I’m convinced that if he’s selected, he’ll play. It depends on the coach,” Argentinian federation president Claudio Tapia told TyCSports TV channel.

Messi has retired from international duties before, following Argentina’s penalty shoot-out loss to Chile in the Centenary final in the United States in 2016, only to reverse his decision a few months later to help guide a struggling Argentina to Russia.

Their World Cup campaign was a farce amid rumours of internal disputes between the coach, Jorge Sampaoli and the players.

Sampaoli has gone to be replaced by interim boss Lionel Scaloni, but so far Messi, who hasn’t claimed to be retired this time, has stayed away.

The pressure will be greatest on Brazil coach Tite, though, after he signed a new contract.

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