359 days after winning their first official title, Chile again defeated Argentina in route to their second consecutive Copa America trophy. It was a battle in every possible way, from tactics to tackles, providing a very exciting match, even though there were not many scoring chances. As a Chilean, I could not be happier to see my team succeed twice in less than a year. Nobody over 20 had ever dreamt of watching Chile be champions, much less twice, much less against the hated Argentineans. (Note: I do not hate Argentina, and if they had not played against Chile, I would have been rooting for them.) Chile had endured years of miserable failures, many times parking the bus in front of the goal when playing abroad. While Marcelo Bielsa planted the seeds of the revolution, Jorge Sampaoli and Juan Antonio Pizzi saw that the revolution did not stagnate, providing the team with flexibility when they realized they could get too predictive.
As a football fan, I am thrilled of watching a team. Before the first game between the Chileans and Argentineans, many people thought that the best thing that could happen to the Albiceleste was Messi not being available because of injury, as it would force his teammates to realize that they had to step up. For Argentina, having Lionel Messi is like the pair of aces conundrum: it is the best thing that you may get in a game of poker, but if you don’t play your hand smartly, you might end up losing. Once again, Argentina fell victim of tailoring its style to play to Messi’s strengths, forgetting that there is no possible way to match up to his Barcelona teammates. Chile, on the other hand, overcame their limitations by dictating the rhythm of the game with possession of the ball, high pressing, and stifling man marking for Messi.
Every single Pizzi gamble worked out beautifully. He kept Claudio Bravo as his starting goalie, even though he had been responsible for three of the five goals scored against Chile. He reinvented José Pedro Fuenzalida as a jack-of-all-trades on the right flank of the pitch, playing him as a winger whenever he needed to prevent attacks from the left side of the opposing squad. He decided to have Eduardo Vargas as his no. 9, and he repaid the confidence given by Pizzi by becoming top scorer of the Copa. In the final, he sent Nicolás Castillo and Francisco Silva in extra time, so they could take a penalty each, though Silva had not taken a penalty in his entire professional career.
Arturo Vidal showed why he is the best box-to-box midfielder in the world with a masterpiece, replacing Marcelo Díaz–who was sent off on 28th minute–and marking Messi while Charles Aránguiz–another gem in this squad–tried to link play with the forwards.
Argentina’s best chances came with a one-on-one that Gonzalo Higuaín shot wide after a rare mistake by Gary Medel, and a header from Sergio Agüero in the first half of extra time that was spectacularly parried by Claudio Bravo. On Chile’s behalf, Eduardo Vargas had a right foot drive and a header saved by Sergio Romero. In the round of penalty kicks, Vidal’s effort was deflected by Romero, while Lionel Messi blazed his shot over the bar. After that, Nicolás Castillo, Charles Aránguiz, and Jean Beausejour scored for Chile, and Javier Mascherano and Sergio Agüero converted for Argentina. Claudio Bravo then made a diving save to prevent Lucas Biglia from scoring, and Francisco Silva calmly slotted his shot past Romero, sending Chile to victory for the second year in a row.
After the match ended, a dejected Lionel Messi announced that he was quitting the national team due to media criticism, the state of disarray of AFA, and an alleged fall-out with the training staff led by Gerardo Martino. Then, word came out that Javier Mascherano had also quit, and Kun Agüero claimed that there were more players soon to follow their decision. Sources from Argentinean media say that Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Kun Agüero, Ángel di María, Lucas Biglia, Sergio Romero, and Mariano Andújar are about to quit the national team, too. Furthermore, it appears that Martino himself is considering resignation, as he is owed seven months of salary, leaving Argentina without a manager for the Olympic Games, and the September fixtures of the World Cup qualifying stages.
In the end, this Cup that was widely criticized before it started, and that some teams took very lightly, has resulted in the greatest boost possible for Chile’s chances of qualifying for 2018, and in catastrophe for Argentina, which stands to lose roughly half of its squad and its manager, as their 23-year trophy drought continues.