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Two Pivotal Soccer Games Will Be Played This Weekend

NOEL KING, HOST:

There's a lot going on in men's soccer this weekend. Argentina and Brazil play in the final of Copa America in Rio, and England and Italy play for the title of Euro 2020 in London. These tournaments have dealt with delays and relocations because of the pandemic, but now they are on. And Grant Wahl is with us, longtime sports commentator. Good morning, Grant.

GRANT WAHL: Good morning.

KING: Lionel Messi will try to win his first title with Argentina against his former teammate Neymar from Brazil. Is it going to be exciting to see them play each other?

WAHL: I'm really fired up for this. Brazil and Argentina are the two biggest teams in South America, but they haven't met in the Copa America finals since 2007. Brazil's the defending champion. Argentina hasn't won a major title since 1993 despite all the talent they've had, and that includes Lionel Messi, who's going to be meeting his former Barcelona teammate Neymar in the finals. So there's a lot at stake here, and these are still the two biggest players in South American men's soccer. So there's a lot to look forward to.

KING: Is one of them looking stronger right now than the other?

WAHL: You know, Messi personally is looking great, scoring off free kicks, still just a tremendous player. But Brazil and Neymar, they've got the better team. So you know, they haven't lost a competitive game since the 2018 World Cup. They're doing great in World Cup qualifying. They're playing at home. So I think Brazil here is the favorite. But this quest of Messi and Argentina to win a trophy is really compelling, too.

KING: OK. So at least it'll be interesting.

And then on Sunday, England is going to try to win its first major title in 55 years. How is it possible that it's been 55 years?

WAHL: (Laughter). They have this history of failure with England when it comes to the biggest moments. They haven't been to a final since 1966, when they won the World Cup. They're in one here. They're playing at home at Wembley Stadium in London. And they have a lot of talent. In recent years, England has won the under 17 World Cup, the under 20 World Cup on the boys side. And so this talent has really shown well in the last few years at senior level. They got to the World Cup semifinal in 2018, and here they are in the final and probably a slight favorite against Italy.

KING: Italy is a really good team, but did not qualify for the last World Cup, which was a very big embarrassment. Has Italy turned it around?

WAHL: You know, they have. It - under Roberto Mancini, their coach - this Italy team is a young team, but they're also exciting and attacking, which is a little unlike stereotypical Italy teams over the years, which have always been known just for their defending. And this team has a bit of both. You know, they haven't conceded many goals. Their defense is terrific. But they also get forward, and they're fun for neutrals to watch because they score goals. Nobody really expected Italy to get to the final before the tournament. We thought they might be a good team, but not as good as they've shown. So they deserved to be here, and they've got every chance of winning this European championship.

KING: These tournaments almost didn't happen because of the pandemic. Copa America had no fans in the stadium. Is it grim, or is it still fun?

WAHL: Well, there are a lot of fans now in the Euro games. And they had a big crowd, almost a full house, at Wembley the other day to see England get to the final. And then - so that's a big contrast to what's happening in South America, where the stadiums are totally empty from fans because of COVID situations.

KING: OK. Partly grim, partly fun.

Soccer commentator Grant Wahl. Thank you, Grant.

WAHL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "SANS SOUCI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.