East Rutherford (New Jersey), June 27 (IANS) Chile successfully defended their crown by edging out Argentina via penalty shootout in the final of the Copa America Centenario football tournament at the Metlife Stadium here on Sunday evening.
In a virtual replay of last year’s final, Chile claimed their second successive title triumph with a 4-2 (0-0) result in the penalty shootout after the regulation 90 minutes and 30 minutes of extra-time did not produce a goal.
The penalty shootout had begun in promising fashion for Argentina as their goalkeeper Sergio Romero dived the correct way to deny Arturo Vidal off Chile’s first attempt. Argentine talisman Lionel Messi immediately returned the compliment, sending his attempt flying high over the bar.
Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo then guessed correctly to palm away Lucas Biglia’s shot.
Francisco Silvo then stepped forward to send Romero the wrong way as the Chile players and fans burst into raucous celebrations.
It was heartbreak for Argentina as they lost in the final of a major tournament for the third successive year. They were edged out Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and by Chile via penalty shootout in the summit clash of last year’s Copa America.
Argentina, the most successful nation at the Copa America with 14 titles, thus continue their 23-year wait to win a major tournament. Their last triumph was in 1993 when they won the Copa America title.
The defeat was rendered even more poignant for Argentina fans as Messi announced his international retirement. The announcement brought down the curtains on a disappointing international career which started in 2005.
The Barcelona icon has lost in the finals of four major international tournaments in his nine-year stint in an Argentine jersey — the Copa America finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, apart from the 2014 World Cup final.
The diminutive dynamo from the city of Rosario in central Argentina has played 113 international matches and is the highest ever scorer for his country with 55 goals.
He was not in his best form in Sunday’s final, but still did enough to be the best player on the pitch.
The match followed a similar script to the Copa America final in Santiago last year, which had also seen expulsions in the first half.
Both teams were locked goalless in a rather drab 90 minutes of regulation time in which referee Heber Roberto Lopes hogged the limelight with his overzealous officiating.
The Brazilian referee showed an unfortunate tendency to mete out harsh decisions at the drop of a hat which saw both teams reduced to 10 men in the first half.
Argentina got their first clear chance in the 21st minute when Higuain snatched the ball from Gary Medel outside the box and with Bravo out of his line, unleashed a grounder which narrowly missed the target.
Minutes later, Nicolas Otamendi’s header off a free-kick from near the centre circle brushed the side netting.
Those were the only proper chances both teams would manage to create in a long time as the tempo of the game was soon disturbed thanks to a couple of incredibly harsh decisions by the referee which reduced both teams to 10 men.
Chile’s Marcelo Diaz received a second yellow card in the 28th minute when he found himself in the path of a surging run by Messi and clumsily allowed the Argentine icon to clatter into him at the edge of the penalty area.
The Argentines found themselves at the receiving end of some atrocious decision making by the referee going into the halftime break.
Marcos Rojo’s challenge on Chilean star Arturo Vidal saw him go for the ball. But Rojo’s ankle clipped the leg of the Bayern Munich midfielder which was enough for the referee to reach for the red card.
Following the expulsion, Javier Mascherano, who was initially deployed as a central midfielder, pulled back to strengthen the defence. With Mascherano playing as a central defender, the Argentine midfield struggled to assert control.
Both sides struggled to create chances in the second half although Argentina hogged the lion’s share of the possession. Messi created an excellent chance for Sergio Aguero in the 85th minute but the Manchester City forward could not keep his effort on target.
The tempo picked up in extra-time with both teams showing urgency in the attacking third.
Eduardo Vargas had a superb chance to put Chile in the lead when he tested Romero with a free header.A But the best chance of the extra-time period fell to Aguero who forced an excellent save from Bravo after putting his head to a free kick.
Those were the best chances both sets of players were able to muster in extra-time as the issue rolled into the penalty shootout.