By Alex Baker
Lionel Messi missed a crucial kick in a penalty shootout as Argentina fell to Chile in the second consecutive Copa America final the two South American nations have contested. The loss was Argentina’s third consecutive defeat in a major tournament final, following last summer’s Copa and the 2014 World Cup.
The match was one of the most contentious we’ve seen in this summer’s Copa America Centenario. Referee Heber Lopes showed a total of six yellow cards and two reds in a contest that saw both teams reduced to 10 men inside of the first half.
The first sending off came just on the half hour mark when Marcelo Diaz was shown his second yellow card for a challenge on Messi. Referee Lopes seemed to hesitate in producing the red after showing Diaz his second yellow, and it’s unclear whether he would have gone for a card at all had he realized the player was already on a yellow.
The 43rd minute sending off of Argentina’s Marcus Rojo seemed like an attempt on Lopes’ part to even the playing field, with replays showing that despite committing fully to his tackle, Rojo indeed got the ball.
As the cards and fouls racked up and the scoreless stalemate wore on, both coaches made attempts to shuffle the deck. Argentina boss Tata Martino brought Matias Kranevitter on for Angel Di Maria just before the hour mark, and Sergio Aguero on for Gonzalo Higuain a few minutes later.
Ten minutes before half time, Chile boss Juan Antonio Pizzi brought Edson Puch on for Jose Fuenzalida. But both coaches’ substitutions yielded little in a match that, despite featuring several of the top players in the world, yielded just five shots on goals between the two teams.
Although Chile slightly dominated possession, Argentina got off more shots. But Martino’s team suffered under the inability of big players like Messi, Aguero, and Higuain to influence the game. Chile, just as they had in last summer’s final, held their ground. The defending champions created fewer chances than Argentina, but gave up very little in the way of opportunity and benefited from an excellent performance from their goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
As the match ticked into extra time, both teams had opportunities to win in open play. Argentina keeper Sergio Romero came up with a huge save to deny Puch a header in the 98th minute.
Two minutes later, Argentina were awarded a free kick. Messi stepped up to take the kick and lofted it in for Aguero, who saw his effort tipped over by Bravo.
Argentina were awarded another free kick in the second period of extra time. Messi stepped up to the mark again and curled a ball in from a similar distance to where he scored his free against the U.S.A. from. However, this time his effort was tipped over by Bravo.
Extra time gave way to penalties and Chile’s Arturo Vidal was the first to step up to the mark, only to see his effort saved by Romero.
Messi was next up, but remarkably; the Barcelona ace blasted his effort over the crossbar. With successful conversions from Chile’s Nicolas Castillo, Charles Aranguiz, Jean Beausejour, and Argentina’s Javier Mascherano, and Sergio Aguero, it all came down to Argentina midfielder Lucas Biglia.
The Lazio midfielder stepped up to the mark only to see his effort easily saved by Bravo. Next up was Chile midfielder Francisco Silva who duly put his effort past Romero to win Chile’s second major international trophy in two years.
In the aftermath, Lionel Messi was visibly devastated sitting on the sidelines staring vacantly ahead of him. Meanwhile, several of his teammates wept openly as Argentina were yet again left to contemplate what might have been after reaching the final of an international tournament and falling at the final hurdle.
Photos by ISI.