Call it a cause, voodoo, a hex or whatever. That’s the feeling the Argentine team will be having after reaching 3 straight finals in 3 years with nothing to show for.
Argentina have gone 23 years without a trophy and this was Messi’s best chance of doing it. Perhaps his last chance, as the star announced his international retirement after the game.
They have now lost finals three years running. In the 2014 World Cup, against Germany, it was unfortunate. In the 2015 Copa America against Chile, it was painful. And this? Messi must believe it is some kind of curse.
Chile, meanwhile, who waited 99 years to win a Copa America, lifted the trophy in Santiago and now have done it again in New Jersey, in the special 100th year edition of the tournament. This is their golden generation and they are delivering.
Argentina coach Tata Martino was able to bring back Angel di Maria after injury for the final, replacing Ezequiel Lavezzi who suffered the same fate during the semi-final win over the USA, while Lucas Biglia stepped in for another casualty from that game, Augusto Fernandez.
It was the same 4-3-3 as usual, while Chile lined up in the same way, picking their strongest team, with Arturo Vidal back from suspension and Marcelo Diaz fit to start. He didn’t last long, however.
Referee Heber Lopes made himself the star of the show in the first half, showing two red cards which he could have held back on.
Diaz was fairly booked for scything down Messi when the forward made his first real move of the game, starting a surging run. Chile sensed danger and Diaz made himself the man to stop it.
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi had stated that his team needed to come up with a plan to halt the Barcelona man in his tracks and hinted that underhand methods may come into the equation.
What he hadn’t banked on was an overzealous official. Diaz obstructed Messi in the 29th minute, a foul, certainly, but a harsh yellow for just his second offence. For a moment it seemed Lopes had forgotten he booked him in the first half, even though the cards were just 12 minutes apart, but out came the red card and Chilean supporters raged.
But things were levelled up on that front just before half-time. Marcos Rojo took out Vidal with a sliding challenge from behind. It was a yellow card offence but he saw red. Ten men each.
Lionel Messi sat down on the substitutes bench, tears in his eyes, numb, haunted, as Chile stars celebrated wildly on the pitch. The greatest player of his generation, he was still without a title with Argentina’s national team.
And this time, he has to share some of the blame.
Messi took Argentina’s first penalty in the shoot-out, after Arturo Vidal had missed the opening spot-kick for Chile. He fired right,
Claudio Bravo went left. But the ball sailed high, over the crossbar and into the stands.
When Bravo made an excellent save from Lucas Biglia’s penalty, the game was up, with Francisco Silva converting Chile’s fifth to win the Copa America Centenario, just as they did last year