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Brazil And Argentina Prepare For Copa América Final Showdown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's go to Brazil now, where the Copa America has been in full swing for weeks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: Well, as you can hear, they are excited there in Brazil. That is host team Brazil beating Peru one-nil to get to the finals on Saturday. They will face longtime rivals Argentina, led by Lionel Messi. Well, joining us now from Sao Paulo to get a sense of the tournament is Mauricio Noriega, a sports commentator there. Hey there. Welcome.

MAURICIO NORIEGA: My pleasure.

KELLY: For Americans listening, soccer is big here. It is not as big as it is there in Brazil. How big a deal is the game this weekend?

NORIEGA: That's something special that makes it a little spicy, I would say, because the Brazilians and the Argentinians - they are neighbors, and they do OK all the time. But when you talk about soccer, it's something like the third war.

KELLY: The third war. All right. Well, let's get there. Talk about the teams. How do these two teams match up? Who's the favorite?

NORIEGA: I believe that Brazil has a strong collective work in tactics and teamwork. Brazil is stronger. But Argentina has Lionel Messi. He's the greatest player of this generation and one of the greatest players of all time. And he can define a match in five seconds, in 10 seconds, in one play. He has an absolutely fantastic skill. But as a team, I see Brazil in a better moment.

KELLY: And Brazil has the home advantage, we should note, so there's that. You mentioned Lionel Messi. Arguably - it sounds like you're arguing, best soccer player of his era. What about Brazil's biggest star, Neymar? I was interested. He has a long history with Messi. They are teammates - been teammates on Barcelona. And he made clear before he knew who Brazil was going to face in the finals that this is who he wanted to play. He wanted to play Argentina and face Messi when they squared off this weekend.

NORIEGA: Yeah, they're good friends. They're good friends. I see Neymar. He has the skills. He has defenses. He has the magic that the Brazilian players are losing. They keep being fantastic players, international players. But now they are very tactical players. And he also can define a match with a single play with the ability to face an opponent in one-to-one game. But he's not a very good player as Messi.

KELLY: Talk to me about the preparations for this tournament in Brazil because Brazil has been just ravaged by COVID. I know the pandemic is far from over there. What kind of precautions are in place? Are there going to be spectators allowed for this?

NORIEGA: No, there's not going to be spectators. The Brazilian soccer is being played without spectators since last year. But this was a hard time for the Brazilian government because the public opinion was strongly against this tournament here.

KELLY: Everybody going to be watching from home on TV?

NORIEGA: Yeah, on TV, on TV. At the same time, we have the broadcast of the European Final, and that - this will be a great weekend for a soccer fan in Brazil.

KELLY: Mauricio Noriega, it's been great speaking with you. Thank you.

NORIEGA: Thank you very much.

KELLY: He is a sports commentator, and as you heard, he'll be following Copa America very closely from his perch in Sao Paulo.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLE DIXON AND MICHAEL STEIN'S "STARCOURT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.