By Phil Rodriguez
After a tense and brutal 120 minutes, Argentina and Leo Messi were defeated on penalties for the second year in a row in the final of the Copa America.
The game was full of dangerous tackles and pushes and shoves, with both teams taking questionable chances in attempts to win the ball. In the 16th minute, Marcelo Diaz high-kicked Messi as he went for the ball, and was immediately shown a yellow by referee Marcelo Lopes.
Given their 23-year major trophy drought and their form during the competition, it seemed Argentina were almost a given to win the match. Things looked suspicious from early on, though. In the 21st minute, forward Gonzalo Higuain snagged a badly played ball from the Chile back line and burst into the box completely unguarded. He whiffed on the shot, though and the ball dribbled harmlessly to the left of the far post.
Referee Marcelo Lopes made a point of establishing himself in the match and had a few controversial decisions and calls. In the 26th minute, he gave a questionable second yellow card to Marcelo Diaz after the defender bumped into Messi near the box, sending him off and putting Chile down to 10 men. But at the 40-minute mark, Messi was given his, as the attacker was booked with a yellow for a diving attempt in the box, where he appeared to stumble on his right foot after light contact with a defender.
Argentina themselves went down to 10 men in the 42nd, when defender Marcos Rojo was booked for an ugly sliding tackle on Chile’s Arturo Vidal. Rojo appeared to kick out at a player as well as he lay on the ground, and was shown a deserved red card.
Argentina’s chance appeared to come very late in regulation, as Messi took the ball from the halfway line and dribbled with deliberation into the box, only to blast his shot attempt wide to the left.
As extra time began, both teams appeared to open up more and take more chances. Chile came close to scoring in the 98th when Edson Puch hit a cross to Eduardo Vargas, but the forward’s solid header was saved by Argentina keeper Sergio Romero. Halfway through extra time, Messi was awarded a free kick from 35 yards outside of the box. He sent a curving ball right to the head of Sergio Aguero, only for the attempt to be saved by Chile keeper Claudio Bravo, who like Romero was rock-solid throughout the match.
Each side looked exhausted but still hungry as extra time ended goalless and penalties began. On the first penalty, Arturo Vidal hit a vicious strike at goal, only for Romero to make another great save. Up stepped Messi, looking full of determination as he moved toward the ball, only to blast his attempt over the bar. He stepped away hanging his head in disbelief, like so many others watching the match.
Nicolas Castillo and Charles Aranguiz made their respective penalty attempts for Chile, as did Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero for Argentina. Jean Beausejour converted another to make it 3-2 to Chile, with Lucas Biglia’s attempt afterward saved by Claudio Bravo. Then came time for Francisco Silva of Chile to take his penalty, and he converted with a powerful shot to the bottom left corner, with Sergio Romero falling in the wrong direction. Chile’s bench erupted and the players shared their elation on the field, as Messi walked dejectedly back to his team’s bench, stripping off his captain’s armband as he did so.
Messi again failed to deliver in a cup final match due mainly to a fervent and ferocious Chile defense, who hounded him with three or more defenders each time he moved near the goal. With Argentina’s 16 shots to Chile’s 4, it would have been expected that they would clinch the victory. But the scales seemed to tip to Chile during the high-pressure moments that decided the game, and in the end, that’s what they needed.
Messi has now lost 4 cup finals with Argentina’s senior team and has already hinted via social media that his days of wearing the blue and white stripes may be over. Despite doubts clouding his future with Argentina’s team, their future looks fairly bright at the moment, with a strong showing from several young players during the tournament.