People in Santiago and other Chilean cities went wild as Chile scored their second Copa America victory in a row. The Chilean government has announced a public holiday for the entire nation and the town streets will be full of crazy Chilenos dancing with the choicest Latin music. In a repeat of last year’s final, which was also decided on shoot-outs, Chile defeated Argentina 4-2. The defeat for Argentina was so frustrating for superstar Lionel Messi that he announced his retirement from international football. After 120 minutes of goalless action, Messi’s worst career moment came, when he kicked the ball over the bar after Chile’s Vidal couldn’t beat Argentinian custodian Sergio Romero. It was 0-0 after one miss from each side but Argentina missed again when a nervous Lucas Biglia couldn’t beat goalkeeper and captain Bravo and it was all over for Argentina.
Messi had been brilliant through the tournament and after Argentina’s 4-0 drubbing of USA in the semifinal, it looked certain that the 4-time world footballer of the year was determined to take his side to their first major international victory in 23 years. In 2015, Chile had hosted the tournament and beaten Argentina 4-1 in shoot-out, when two Argentinians had muffed their chances but not Messi. However, with Chile converting all their chances, they had emerged as the 2015 winner. Except the shoot-out scores, the 2016 final looked like a replay of the last year’s title match.
Regardless, Argentina had their chances. They should have taken the lead in the 21st minute, when Chilean defender blundered with a back pass and Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain had just the goalkeeper to beat. But as fate would have it, Higuain lost his cool and lobbed his shot over the advancing Bravo and watched in frustration as the ball rolled wide off the post. It was the same Higuain, who had squandered winning chances in last year’s final too and also in the 2014 World Cup final. Earlier in the 16th minute, a fast-advancing Messi was hacked down on the ground by Marcelo Diaz and the referee promptly served him a yellow card. Diaz did the same again in the 28th minute, when Messi blazed towards the goal and this time it was red card for Diaz. For a while, Argentina had the numbers’ advantage but that didn’t last long. Two minutes from halftime, Argentina’s Marcos Rojo was shown the red card for a rough tackle on Vidal and both sides were down to 10 men.
The second half of the ill-tempered match continued in the same way as the first. With ball possession changing sides, no team came with any clear chances. Chile got a promising chance in the 80th minute, when Eduardo Vargas produced a fierce low shot but Argentina goalkeeper Romero blocked it beautifully. After regulation time, there was suffocating tension in two halves of the extra-time. Of all the chances that were created, the one from Vargas was the closest. The Chilean received a brilliant cross from Edson Puch in the 98th minutes but his diving header was plucked out of the air by Romero.
When the penalty shoot-out ensued, Chile had the first chance but Vidal’s shot was blocked by Romero. Argentina’s hopes surged at that moment but only just. No one expected Lionel Messi to hit the ball over the bar but it was probably a case of the poorest luck as Messi muffed his chance. After Castillo converted for Chile, Mascherano leveled the scores to 1-1. For Chile, Aranguiz didn’t miss either but Aguero made it 2-2 and three attempts from either side were completed. Chile went 3-2 with Beausejour hitting accurately with power. However, Argentina got another rude shock, when Biglia’s shot was blocked by Bravo. Now was the crunch time and Silva didn’t make any mistakes to ensure that Chile ended up as 2016 Copa America Champions. There was a large congregation of Chilean fans in a crowd numbering in excess of 82000 at East Rutherford on Sunday night and they went berserk with all-round jubilation.
Argentina’s loss was very disheartening for Messi. After his penalty miss, he looked forlorn and utterly dejected. TV cameras also followed him even as they focused on penalty shots. In a sensational announcement after the match, the Argentina captain declared that he was hanging his boot from international football. Lot of people think Messi could be persuaded to change his mind before Argentina’s next competitive world-cup qualifier game against Uruguay in September. Also since the 2018 Russian World Cup is not far away, Argentina’s strength will diminish in the absence of Messi.
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