Lionel Messi once more failed to buoy Argentina to a major title. Last summer, he lost the World Cup finals to the mighty Germans by a solitary extra-time goal, and on Saturday his side bowed down to Chile 4-1 in a penalty shoot-out in the Copa America finals at Santiago, after 120 minutes of which dished out a barren draw. Le Albiceleste do not have a major trophy in the last 22 years ever since it won during the 1993 Copa America in Ecuador.
For red hot Chile at home, its celebrations all over. The Latin American country finally tasted blood ending its major title drought for a Copa title for almost 100 years as they featured among four teams in the first edition of the tournament in 1916 in Argentina. Sixty years ago, Chile lost to 14-time champion Argentina 1-0 in a similar situation at home soil in the finals.
“This is a dream come true, this team deserves something like this,” said Arturo Vidal, the super-star of this Chilean squad.
“We left our life on the field. Chilean people needed this joy and we managed to give it to them. We’ll fight a lot in the next World Cup. This generation of players deserved this.”
Though Chile’s success is marred by controversies, as analysts point out their victories over Uruguay and Peru in the quarterfinals weren’t clean. In both cases, Chile got the winning goal after the opposition was reduced to ten men, and the red cards were apparently harsh.
Argentina coming fresh from their 6-1 rout over Paraguay in the semifinals couldn’t capitalize on the pressure that mounted on Chile in front of a sell-out home crowd desperately demanding the trophy from their national stars. Both teams relied on tactics to measure each other, rather going all-out for a win. Play-makers like Messi or Vidal were heavily marked and smothered by destroyers.
Gonzalo Higuain missed a sitter early in the first half and missed the best chance Argentina had in the 90th minute. The same guy was culprit of wasting a couple of opportunities in the World Cup final. Alexis Sanchez missed a golden opportunity to finish it off late in the second half but drove wide from close to the near post with the flag staying down.
In the shoot-out, it was “Bravo-Chile,” as the skipper custodian pulled off a save to lead his side to an emphatic win over a continental super-power. It was again Higuain who missed, and Banega also failed to convert from the dreaded spot. Messi was the only scorer for Argentina. Chilean shooters held their nerves and didn’t waste the advantage they finally got by converting all their chances. Alexis Sanchez slotted home the 4th shot and the hosts went on to grab their maiden title, sparking wild scenes of celebrations in the Estadio Nacional.
In the playoff for the third place, Peru defeated Paraguay 2-0 to clinch the 3rd place for the second consecutive time.