And so they meet again. On this occasion, for a place in the Copa America final.
Yet when Brazil and Argentina do battle at the Mineirao in the early hours of Wednesday morning, far more than the chance to face either Chile or Peru and edge further towards becoming continental kings will be at stake.
For a start, both managers’ jobs are at risk. Though the head of the CBF has said Tite will continue as Selecao coach regardless of whether the hosts lift the trophy in the Maracana on July 7, losing to their greatest rivals at this stage would be the ultimate embarrassment and indefinitely trigger calls for his head.
Lionel Messi hasn’t been at his best for Argentina during the 2019 Copa America in Brazil
Argentina’s fans celebrate on Copacabana beach ahead of their huge semi-final against Brazil
At the same time, his opposite number, Lionel Scaloni, has been a dead man walking ever since La Albiceleste’s disastrous start to the competition – which began with a humbling 2-0 defeat against Colombia and stuttering 1-1 draw against Paraguay.
Their legacies could come to be defined by the outcome, just like that of Lionel Messi, who has confessed that this hasn’t been his ‘best Copa America’ and has criticised the quality of the pitches around Brazil.
Blasted by some corners of the press in his homeland at the start of the tournament, the Barcelona legend has nonetheless rediscovered his passion for playing in blue and white.
Singing the national anthem for the first time in his last outing, Messi has also pleased his under-fire boss too as revealed in the final press conference before the showdown on Monday evening.
‘We’re used to seeing him score three goals in every game and dribble past five players’ explained Scaloni. ‘But we’re asking him to do something different and we’re more than happy with the job he is doing. He’s embraced the workload, [and] he is our flagbearer.’
As out of sorts as Messi might be compared to his usual lofty standards, other stars such as Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez have thankfully emerged with their importance not going unnoticed by Argentina’s passionate travelling support.
The Brazilians train in Belo Horizonte ahead of the semi-final clash against their old rivals
Tite is clinging onto his job, with much pressure on his shoulders to win the Copa America
‘Messi, give it to Lautaro’ demanded one fan’s sign in the crowd, as their country beat Venezuela 2-0 in the only quarter-final that wasn’t a 0-0 draw decided by immediate penalties.
Now forming a three-man attack with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner and Sergio Aguero, Martinez has scored two in two and will be looking to prolong his hot streak against a Brazil defence yet to concede a goal.
He will have to best a solid defensive pairing of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos to achieve this, before beating Liverpool shot stopper Alisson, but the gaps left behind by Dani Alves may offer one avenue to exploit.
Better against teams that allow them more space to play, Brazil will also be buoyed by the return of dominating midfield presence Casemiro from suspension while fascinating duels can be found elsewhere on the pitch.
Sergio Aguero is part of a new-look front three with Messi and stand-out star Lautaro Martinez
After a disastrous start to the tournament Lionel Scaloni (L) is trying to turn Argentina around
COPA AMERICA – ROUTE TO SEMIS
won 3-0 vs Bolivia (June 15 )
drew 0-0 vs Venezuela (June 19)
won 5-0 vs Peru (June 22)
drew 0-0 vs Paraguay – won 4-3 on penalties (June 28 – quarter-final)
lost 2-0 vs Colombia (June 15)
drew 1-1 vs Paraguay (June 20)
won 2-0 vs Qatar (June 23)
won 2-0 vs Venezuela (June 28 – quarter-final)
This includes that which sees Neymar-stand in Everton, one of the revelations of the competition and a transfer target for the two Manchester clubs, running at newly-converted right back Juan Foyth of Tottenham Hotspur. On the opposite flank, Gabriel Jesus, will attempt to get the better of Ajax’s Nicolas Tagliafico.
Yet even without consideration of immediate circumstances and consequences, just the backstory alone provides enough fuel to get excited about the 105th clash overall between the two biggest rivals in international football.
While of those encounters the Selecao have notched up 42 victories to Argentina’s 36, the infliction of fatal damage on one another at major competitions, particularly this one, has been enjoyed by each party.
Beating Brazil 3-2 in the 1991 edition of the tournament, which ended up being enough for Argentina to win the final group phase and Copa proper, they knocked their eternal enemies out in the quarter finals on penalties in 1993. In turn, they went on to become back-to-back champions and seal their last senior trophy.
Martinez (left) is in fine form, with one fan’s banner even telling Messi to give him the ball
Everton – a transfer target for both Manchester clubs this summer – has also turned on the style
On the other hand, the most recent claim to bragging rights belongs to Brazil, who have lifted the Copa America on each one of the four times they have hosted it. In 2007, captained by Gilberto Silva for every game except the final, an under strength side caused a young Messi his first major heartbreak on the international circuit when Argentina were beaten 3-0 in Venezuela.
Brazil’s record of four wins and a draw in the tie at the Mineirao, which counts another 3-0 drubbing in a World Cup qualifier in November 2016, also flatters the home team. But there is an extra element that cannot be ignored – the psychological connotations imposed merely by contesting a semi-final in this ground again.
Reminding Brazilian football of its darkest hour – the 7-1 loss to eventual winners Germany – as victors tonight Tite’s men will look to soothe the blow still felt some five years later, even if they don’t go on to taste a first piece of silverware in over a decade.
Standing in their way is an outfit led by an individual who lacks only international glory in his claim as the greatest player of all time. Collectively, though, the Argies would love nothing more than to place Brazil firmly back in the abyss. Then, they can finally avenge grand finale losses to Chile in 2015 and 2016 in the very stadium where they came up short against the Germans in the 2014 World Cup final.