Last night, in the last game of the group stage of the Copa América, Argentina beat Chile 2-1 in the US without the help of Lionel Messi, who was nursing a mild back injury on the bench. The match — played before a sold-out stadium of 69,491 fans in Santa Clara, California — was an entertaining and somewhat heated rematch of last year’s Copa América final, which Chile won on penalties.
Argentina claimed possession of the ball throughout the first 30 minutes, though the game remained goalless. Despite gaining control in the last part of the first half, Chile showed a lack of cohesion midfield and gave away a lot of balls. The classic Chile-Argentina rivalry flared various times throughout the game, with five yellow cards penalizing players from both teams.
Early in the second half, Ángel Di María and Éver Banega consolidated a 2-0 lead. In the 51st minute, Banega won the ball high in midfield and dispatched it to Di María, who kicked it into the net with his left foot to Chile goalkeeper Mario Bravo near post.
Bravo would suffer a similar fate just eight minutes later, when another counter-attack midfield led to practically a replica of the first goal (it’s seriously difficult to distinguish between the two). The difference was that Di María dispatched it to Banega this time and the ball was slightly deflected from a Chilean defender’s foot.
Di María dedicated his goal to his grandmother, who passed away hours before the game: after scoring, you can see him run to the substitute bench and grab a white T-shirt with the words “Grandma, I’m going to miss you very much.” The team and the Argentine coach, Gerardo Martino, later told the press that they had no idea what had happened. According to Martino, he would have given Di María the day off. However, according to Di María:
“I couldn’t not play. If I didn’t play, grandma would get mad.”
After various injuries and pauses during the game, three minutes of stoppage time were added, in which Chile scored a consolation goal during the last few seconds with a header from José Pedro Fuenzalida.
Martino has said he is optimistic about Messi playing on Friday against Panama: if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, the squad can rest easy after last night’s performance with Nicolás Gaitán playing in his stead. In the words of Juan Antonio Pizzi, the Chilean coach:
“The team is different if Messi is playing or not. Messi’s probably more dangerous than any other football player […] But the player who replaced Messi, Gaitán, played well. He has other virtues, other characteristics. He helped them have a better structure and made them a solid team. They were able to take advantage of their opportunity.”
The Argentine team is under pressure to win the Copa América this year, as it has not won a major title since becoming champion of the Copa América in 1993.