RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's players didn't want to take part in the Copa America. Look at them now.
The Selecao advanced to the final after beating Peru 1-0 in the semifinals on Monday. Shortly after, their star said he hoped to see their archrivals on Saturday at Maracana Stadium.
"I want Argentina in the final," Neymar said. "I am cheering for them because I have many friends there. In the final," he added, laughing, "Brazil will win."
Argentina faces Colombia in the other semifinal on Tuesday. Only Lionel Messi's Argentines can match Brazil's campaign so far with five wins in six Copa matches.
Neymar made the difference on the bumpy pitch at Nilton Santos Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The only goal arrived in the 34th minute after he tricked defender Alexander Callens on the left edge of the box and assisted Lucas Paquetá, who pushed the ball in.
Paquetá started the tournament on the bench but has become one of Brazil's leading players. He constantly received the ball in the middle, eased the pressure on Neymar, and marked with intensity.
Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese starred, notably making two difficult saves from short range in the 18th from Neymar and Richarlison.
Brazil gave the impression it could score when it wanted against Peru, which it beat 4-0 in the group stage and 3-1 in the final two years. But the second half was very different: Gianluca Lapadula forced goalkeeper Ederson to make a key save in the 49th after a cross. Brazil continued to waste counterattacks.
"It (the match against Peru) wears us down not only physically, but mentally, too," Brazil coach Tite said. "In these Copa America matches we play a mental marathon."
Brazil players threatened to boycott the Copa America in the week before but, instead, voiced their dissatisfaction at CONMEBOL's decision to move the tournament to their country, which has suffered a known 18.7 million coronavirus cases, and more than 525,000 deaths, second only to the United States.
The tournament was delayed from last year because of the pandemic and removed in May from Colombia because of political protests, and Argentina because of rising cases of the virus.
Midfielder Casemiro was one of the players who criticized CONMEBOL for sending the Copa to Brazil. "Now it is all about mentality and heart. You don't play a final, you win a final," he said.
Brazil will seek its 10th title in the South American championship in its ninth final in the latest 14 editions. The final will feature no spectators, just like every other Copa match.
Peru will play on Friday in the third-place playoff against the loser of Tuesday's semifinal.
"Peru has young players who did well," coach Ricardo Gareca said. "We wish we had advanced, but now we have to prepare in the best way possible for the future."