Neymar will be putting his friendship with former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi aside as he chases his first Copa America title with Brazil in Saturday's final.

Brazil takes on Argentina in the Copa America 2021 decider at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, with both players pursuing their first-ever continental crowns.

Messi's Argentina have not won the Copa since 1993, while injury meant Neymar was not part of the Brazil squad which triumphed in 2019.

The pair have a close friendship from Neymar's four years in Barcelona, while they have both dominated this Copa.

Messi leads the Copa with four goals and five assists, while Neymar has contributed two goals and three assists for hosts Brazil.

"Messi is, as I've always said, the best player I've ever seen play and he's a great friend," Neymar said. "But now we're in a final, we're rivals. I want to win and I really want to win this title, which would be my first Copa America.

"Messi has been looking for his first title with the national team for many years, and every time we we [Brazil] are not present at the tournament, I cheered for him.

"That's what I've been cheering for in the 2014 World Cup final, when he faced Germany.

"Now Brazil is in the dispute, so our friendship is on the line [laughs]. The respect between us in still great but only one can win."

He added: "When you're friends with someone, it's hard to forget the friendship you have... but for example when you play video games with a friend, you want to beat him anyway. It'll be the same thing on Saturday."

Neymar also hit out on Instagram about Brazilian fans who have turned on the national team and opted to support rivals Argentina.

"I'm Brazilian with a lot of pride, with a lot of love. My dream was always to be in the Brazilian national team and hear the fans singing," he wrote. "I've never supported or will support against anything Brazil is competing for, whatever the sport or modelling contest."

Brazil is chasing its 10th Copa title, while Argentina is looking to end its 28-year wait to add to its 14 continental crowns.

Argentina have won five games in a row, including their semi-final victory over Colombia, and are unbeaten across their past 19 games.

Brazil are undefeated in their past 13 games and have only conceded two goals at Copa America 2021.

Brazil will be looking to stretch their unbeaten run over Ecuador to 11 games when they wrap up their Copa America Group B campaign on Sunday. 

Tite's men have started the tournament in fine form, beating Colombia, Peru and Venezuela to ensure their place in the last eight was secured long before the group's final game. 

They have scored nine goals in those three games and conceded just once. 

Given their place in the knockout stage is already secured, Tite could well shuffle his pack.

Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino, in particular, will be hoping for a first start of the tournament after coming off the bench to score the equaliser against Colombia last time out, while Real Madrid man Vinicius Junior will be hoping to improve on his paltry five minutes of action so far. 

Ecuador, meanwhile, need a win to guarantee their place in the last eight, although they will progress regardless of the result if Venezuela lose to Peru on Sunday. 

They followed up their opening 1-0 defeat to Colombia with consecutive 2-2 draws against Venezuela and Peru. 

That has left them level with Venezuela on two points, though they have a superior goal difference to Jose Peseiro's side.

They have unsurprisingly struggled against Brazil historically, with their last win against the Selecao coming in the South American World Cup qualifiers in 2006.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil – Neymar

He did not get on the scoresheet against Colombia, but Neymar was heavily involved in the action. 

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar had five shots – a game high – and played two key passes, which was only bettered by Fred from either side. 

He did blot his copybook, however, by losing possession a whopping 40 times – 22 more times than any other player on the pitch, evidence that he was rather wasteful. Something for the 29-year-old to improve on against Ecuador.

Ecuador –​ Ayrton Preciado

Preciado scored his second goal of the campaign in the 2-2 draw with Peru last time out. 

The Santos Laguna winger was a real handful in that clash, taking more touches (90) and playing more key passes (three) than any other player on the pitch.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Tite has won his last 10 games with Brazil in all competitions, his best run since he took over the job. 
- After winning four consecutive games in all competitions, Ecuador are winless in their last five (D2 L3), including two consecutive 2-2 draws against Colombia and Peru in the current Copa America.
- Brazil are the team with the most shots on target per game in the Copa America (6.7). They have also scored the most goals in the competition (nine in three games).
- Ecuador have put in the most crosses per game in the Copa America (29.3), with a 27.3 per cent success rate. They have the third best percentage of successful crosses in the competition after Paraguay and Colombia.

Brazil head coach Tite lauded Neymar after the superstar inspired the Copa America champions to a 3-0 win against Venezuela in Sunday's curtain-raiser.

Neymar scored and was involved in the two other goals as Brazil kicked off their title defence in victorious fashion behind closed doors in Brasilia.

Marquinhos opened the scoring following Neymar's corner in the 23rd minute before the latter converted a penalty after the hour mark.

It was Neymar's 67th international goal – just 10 shy of Pele's all-time record. Since making his Brazil debut in August 2010, the Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 48 more goals than any of his Selecao team-mates.

Neymar then provided the cross for substitute Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa to complete the scoring in the final minute of regulation as Tite refused to make comparisons with Brazil greats Ronaldo and Romario.

"When Neymar is well physically and well in his head, good things happen," Tite told reporters after the 29-year-old created seven chances against Venezuela – the most by any Brazil player in the Copa America since his international bow.

"When you have a player with the technical quality that he has, you gain in assist ability, with the left foot or with the right foot, and he becomes an unpredictable player.

"When you stop him in a more advanced position on the field of play it is better for him, because the opponents are afraid of making him an infraction in a dangerous place on the field, so we structure the team so that he receives fewer balls, but to do it in a more efficient way for the creation of the game.

"It would be an injustice to compare players from different eras, because the players of my generation were extraordinary, Neymar is also extraordinary, and a while ago Ronaldo and Romario were also extraordinary.

"There are different stages and moments, so you have to be very careful not to compare them."

Neymar was on target as Brazil opened their Copa America defence with a 3-0 win over Venezuela at Estadio Nacional on Sunday. 

Hosting the tournament after it had been moved from Colombia and Argentina amid political unrest in the former and a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the latter, Brazil were never troubled by a Venezuela side that had reported 12 positive coronavirus tests amongst their ranks earlier this week. 

Marquinhos got them on their way midway through the first half with his third international goal before Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar doubled their advantage from the penalty spot in the 64th minute.

Brazil – who finished with 18 shots to Venezuela's three – added a third late on when substitute Gabriel Barbosa turned home a Neymar cross from close range.

Brazil started on the front foot and twice went close early on, Joel Graterol keeping out Richarlison and Eder Militao heading wide from a teasing Renan Lodi cross.

They were rewarded for their bright start in the 23rd minute when Marquinhos flicked home from close range after Neymar's corner had fallen kindly to him. 

Richarlison saw an effort ruled out for offside soon after, while Neymar dragged wide from a promising position as Brazil failed to extend their advantage before the interval.

Neymar was unable to steer home a Gabriel Jesus cross at the start of the second period, but he stroked home from the spot shortly after the hour mark after Danilo had been clipped in the area by Yohan Cumana. 

Late on Neymar turned provider for Brazil’s third in the 89th minute, rounding Graterol and crossing for Barbosa to chest home from almost on the line. 

What does it mean? Familiar home comforts for Tite's men

Brazil will face significantly tougher tests than the one posed by a depleted Venezuela side, but Tite will be pleased to see his side get off the mark with the minimum of fuss. 

The Selecao have now gone 21 Copa America games without losing when the tournament takes place on home soil (W13 D8), while they have lifted the title on the previous five occasions they have hosted the tournament. Their rivals have been warned. 

Neymar sparkles for Brazil

The PSG forward was at his talismanic best, taking five shots and making a game-high seven key passes. He also competed in a whopping 17 duels – the most of any player on the pitch – and drew the most fouls (four) of any player.

Jesus struggles to make an impact

Jesus had just a solitary shot and failed to play a single key pass to a team-mate in what was an underwhelming display. Roberto Firmino might just fancy his chances of replacing him for Brazil's next game after this showing from the Manchester City man. 

What's next?

Both sides are in action again on Thursday, with Brazil facing Peru in Rio de Janeiro and Venezuela taking on Colombia in Goiania.

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe were on target as Paris Saint-Germain kept alive their hopes of retaining the Ligue 1 title with a 4-0 victory over Reims on Sunday.

Mauricio Pochettino's side will go into next weekend's final round of the season against Brest one point behind leaders Lille, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Saint-Etienne.

PSG will only get their hands on the title if they better the result Lille get against Angers next weekend, needing Christophe Galtier's team to slip up.

Neymar opened the scoring early on with a penalty after Yunis Abdelhamid had been dismissed for handling an Mbappe shot. World Cup winner Mbappe, Marquinhos and Moise Kean wrapped up the most routine of victories.

Any hopes Reims had of securing back-to-back wins at the Parc des Princes were all but extinguished in the 13th minute.

Abdelhamid received his marching orders for handling Mbappe's goalbound effort, with Neymar nonchalantly slotting home his ninth league goal of the campaign from the resulting penalty.

Mbappe was not to be denied 11 minutes later, sliding home from close range after Thomas Foket had inexplicably rolled the ball across the face of his own goal.

France international Mbappe then fired wide after being played in by a sumptuous Neymar flick as PSG failed to add the third goal their dominance deserved before the interval.

Mbappe went close on a number of occasions at the start of the second period, while Neymar saw an effort ruled out for offside after Ander Herrera had struck the post from distance.

Neymar turned provider for PSG's third after 68 minutes, his corner from the left headed past Predrag Rajkovic by Marquinhos from six yards.

Substitute Kean fired into the bottom-right corner from 15 yards a minute from full-time as PSG inflicted a first defeat in six away games on Reims.

Paris Saint-Germain are getting close to a decision over a new deal for Kylian Mbappe, the club's sporting director Leonardo has revealed.

The Frenchman, who has scored 90 goals in just 100 appearances for PSG since arriving from Monaco in 2017, will be one year out from the expiry of his contract when the current season comes to a close.

As such, in the event that new terms cannot be agreed, PSG would need to sanction a transfer this close-season if they are to avoid losing Mbappe for free.

However, Leonardo remains relaxed about ongoing discussions, even if he admitted that a conclusion will need to be reached soon.

"On Kylian Mbappe's contract, we've been talking for a long time," the Brazilian told France Bleu.

"Before, it was mainly to be clear about our position and what we want. There, I think we are getting to the point where we must take a position and a decision.

"We have a good opening of dialogue."

Like Mbappe, Neymar is also less than 18 months out from the expiry of his deal with the French champions.

Leonardo is keen to find a resolution on that front, too, and hopes to find an agreement with Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat over new terms.

He added: "Neymar, it is on the right track, but in the end, he decides after the signing and it is not yet the case.

"We arrive at the right time I think, same thing for Di Maria and Bernat. These are the four issues we are discussing. 

"The idea is to get there as quickly as possible, because on our side, we have the intention to renew all four."

Ligue 1 winners in seven of the last eight seasons, PSG currently sit in third place, four points off the pace set by leaders Lille and a point behind second-placed Lyon.

On the thrilling race that awaits, Leonardo said: "We will surely have an exciting end to the season. 

"Paris is one of the favorites to win the title: we are not going to say that we do not think of winning and that we do not feel in the conditions to do so. 

"After, if we look at the last days, Lyon, Lille and Monaco have a very important winning streak. But the ambition and the objectives remain the same."

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