The Copa America is an international association football competition established in 1916. It is contested by the men’s national teams of the members of the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), the sport’s continental governing body.
In a repeat of last year’s final, Chile won the 2016 Copa America Centenario in the early hours of Monday morning, beating Argentina 4-2 on penalties in New Jersey. After 120 minutes without goals, the decider went to a penalty shootout. Despite missing their opening kick when Arturo Vidal saw his shot saved by Sergio Romero, Chile converted all of their remaining penalties and retain the Copa America trophy. Never before last year had they won the tournament. Now it’s two on the spin!
The 2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016 finals serve as a reminder that Argentina is no longer the best and most feared of South American sides. Nowadays, this title belongs solely to Chile´s outstanding and cohesive group of players.
The 2016 was Chile´s night, a Chile side who have proven (in the short space of 12 months) that team effort, tirelessness and a cohesive unit throughout can eclipse even the brightest of individual displays. After minute 28 of the first half, when one of their most important midfielders was sent off (by a referee whose terrible display was a focus of attention during the first half) Chile strangely grew better into the game. Up until that sending off, the Argentinians were pressuring high on the pitch, causing major issues to Chile´s way of playing; and also having the best options to take that elusive first goal.
Then the referee took center stage again, only this time the Argentinians were the ones who suffered for his lack of judgement, sending off Marcos Rojo for a silly (although overly-aggressive) slide tackle on Arturo Vidal. The decision couldn’t be for any other reason than to have a “just” game of 10 v 10. After this evening out of the numbers on the pitch, Chile grew better and better. They played hard, harsh but clean football, won over second balls, and managed to contain Messi, Di María & Co splendidly. There were some sparks from Argentina’s great offensive individuals, and Gonzalo Higuaín added another one of his horrific one-on-one, crucial misses to yet another final. But nothing staved off the stale-mate to come.
Chile played very organized and tactically intelligent football, every offensive maneuver passed through Alexis Sanchez’s quick feet, Charles Aranguiz managed to contain a tired and blown-out Argentinian midfield; and Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel and Claudio Bravo were all excellent throughout the whole of the 120 minutes. In Argentina’s national team, Mascherano was the best of them all (once again), while Sergio Aguero was never on his Manchester City level and the midfield was run-ragged by Gerardo Martino’s decision to pull Mascherano back as a Center Half and leave the midfield for Chile to exploit after Marcos Rojo’s sending off.
At the end of the 120-minute-long struggle, penalties loomed large. They looked like a DejaVú of the Santiago final in 2015. The only thing that varied from that night were the penalty takers, but even the result managed to be the same. Both team missed their first penalties. Arturo Vidal kicked mid-height, strongly but without any positioning, easy for Sergio Romero to parry at his end. And then came Lionel Messi. It was the penalty to shift the tide, the penalty to inch Argentina ever-so-close to a major international tournament in the first time in more that two decades. Messi kicked strongly, but his accuracy was hopelessly askew, and Argentina’s morale took a serious, serious plunge.
Argentina feels that familiar heartbreak, losing a final for the third consecutive summer. Argentina last won a trophy at senior level in 1993, and Sunday’s result added at least two more years of hurt to the 23 that already have come and gone.
Their captain, the best player in the world to many, was not able to put them in front in the crucial tie, he was not able to inch them closer to taste the water of triumph he so often chugs down with his club in any and all competitions. Before Messi missed, they were the closest to ending the trophy drought that extends to that (now very distant) victory against Mexico 2-1 in Guayaquil in 1993. It’s truly unfair to blame Messi for the constant losses at finals by Argentina, but the pressure is on him for a reason. With Barcelona, the small but truly gifted forward rarely misses the opportunity to make a telling contribution in the form of a goal, an assist, or a terrific off-ball movement in finals. Now the weight of this new loss and frustration have made him quit his international days with the albiceleste; but dwelling on this further is taking credit off a hard-working, deserving Chile. They now have a double in Copa America’s competition in the space of a year, and their winning formula is based on group strength, tireless teamwork, and very astute game-playing. Chile are, undoubtedly, the deserving champions.