Chile emerged victorious in a grueling battle of attrition against Argentina in the Copa América final on July 4. After being deadlocked at 0-0 for 120 minutes, Chile outscored Argentina 4-1 in the penalty shootout. The aggressive match included a whopping total of 49 fouls and seven yellow cards between the two teams.
Lionel Messi was the sole Argentinian to score a penalty in the shootout, while Matias Fernandez, Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz and Alexis Sanchez scored consecutive penalties for Chile. The win came as a slight surprise, considering that so far this year, Argentina has scored eight penalties and only let in four, as opposed to Chile’s 0-2 record in penalties.
At the end of the day, Chile deserved the win for their relentless attack all match long — they took 18 shots on goal as opposed to Argentina’s eight shots. Furthermore, they were able to dictate the tempo and kept possession of the ball 57 percent of the time.
The loss marked yet another failure for Messi and Argentina, as many expected them to be crowned champions. Of the last four Copa América finals, Argentina has lost three of them.
However, many critics overlook the root problems of Argentina’s failures and default to making Messi the scapegoat. Messi played incredibly well throughout the tournament and consistently created chances for him and his teammates to score, but in the Chile game, they were never able to capitalize. One notable play was the 92nd-minute opportunity that Messi set up for Gonzalo Higuain, who shot the ball wide into the side netting.
Instead, the main problem with Argentina’s squad is its team chemistry. Messi, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and pretty much the entire roster are incredibly talented players individually. However, Argentina’s mentality has been “let Messi do his thing and hopefully he will score”. What sets Chile apart from Argentina is their ability to work as a unit, and that is the sole reason why Chile was more deserving of the win.
One last reason why Copa was unfortunate for Argentina — Messi’s family was attacked by Chilean fans in a tragic incident right before halftime of the match. This probably foreshadows an intense rivalry between the two teams for the next few years while both continue to be elite teams.
Speaking of elite, winning the Copa América puts Chile right into that category. Prior to this year, Chile has never been considered as a legitimate World Cup contender. Of the past 10 FIFA World Cups, Chile has only qualified for four of them, and their furthest run has been to the Round of 16.
Currently 19th on the FIFA rankings, Chile’s improved roster and chemistry will likely taking them soaring high up among the top 10 in the near future. If they keep up their improvement, Chile should be able to make it deep into the elimination rounds of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. On the other hand, while Argentina certainly possesses the talent to bring them back to the finals and look to avenge their runner-up finish in 2014, the team has many questions to answer regarding the utilization and blend of that talent.
Contact Ethan Teo at ethanteo99 ‘at’ gmail.com.