CHILE overcame Argentina in a penalty shootout last night to famously claim their first Copa America title in front of a home crowd after almost a century-long wait.
In a rather substandard finale where there were few chances at both ends, Chile, who were spurred on by the roars of more than 40,000 home supporters, matched their pre-tournament opponents and dominated large periods of possession throughout the game, allowing the Argentines little space.
Both goalkeepers made terrific saves before the break, with Sergio Romero blocking a volley from Arturo Vidal and Chile’s Claudio Bravo keeping out Sergio Aguero’s header just moments after.
Although some home fans in the Estadio Nacional had reportedly paid up to $25,000 for tickets, they were not treated to a dazzling attacking performance from their side that is often all too expected in the final of a major footballing competition.
Instead, supporters got behind a Chilean side who were ultimately cautious, composed and displined in the way they played.
The match certainly had a climatic end, with Sanchez drawing gasps from the crowd when his 83rd minute shot narrowly swerved past Romero’s near post.
Gonzalo Higuain could have dramatically won the match for Argentina in the last minute of normal time, but guiltily squandered his chance to convert Ezequiel Lavezzi’s low cross at the back post which saw the game go into extra-time.
With legs tiring, both teams failed to create any real opportunities in extra time and the final was to go down to the wire.
Where Chile held their nerve, Argentina wilted in the shootout at the end of a lacklustre performance that fell well short of the standard they reached in their 6-1 semi-final thrashing over Paraguay.
Both teams converted their opening penalty, with Matias Fernandez comfortably firing into the top corner of the net for Chile before Lionel Messi angled his kick low into the bottom corner.
Arturo Vidal, who himself was made Man of the Match, concluded his terrific tournament form by powerfully scoring Chile’s second, before Higuain, somewhat haunted by his last gasp miss at the end of normal time, could not compose himself and erratically skied his effort over the bar.
Charles Aranguiz then converted to make it 3-1 to the hosts and the possibility of an Argentine victory was all but over when Ever Banega’s tame effort was palmed away by Claudio Bravo.
Chile’s poster-boy, Alexis Sanchez, stepped up to the spot and the Arsenal striker coolly slotted the ball down the middle past Argentina’s keeper to spark an explosion of emotion from over 46,000 home fans.
The defeat was cruel for Argentina, who have now suffered another major blow in their quest to win silverware, just a year on from losing to Germany in last summer’s World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
More questions will be asked of Lionel Messi, who, despite his mesmerising goals and intricate attacking prowess at Barcelona, once again struggled to imitate such form on the international stage. His national side’s failure to steal the Copa crown from the Chileans represents another blip in his endeavour to become the greatest player of all time.
Argentina’s main man, however, cannot be entirely blamed for his side’s defeat in Santiago. During the 90 minutes of normal play, his team-mates struggled to create the space and opportunity that the striker thrives off and this ultimately meant that he could not mimic the venomous threat that so often characterises him at club level. Chile’s defence must also be commended for the aggressive fashion in which they continuously closed the striker down in dangerous positions.
This is La Rioja’s first major title – one which will undoubtedly be revered by Chileans for years to come. It is a new chapter for the South American side, whose generation of young talent have shown grit, determination and strong will in their famous 2016 Copa de America campaign, one which boasts a fairy tale ending and the success of vanquishing their own ‘Copa Curse’.
Featured photo: canada.com