Football fans around the world forgot the victory last night as the five-time world player of the year Lionel Messi announced a shock retirement at just 29 years old after Argentina suffered a second successive Copa America final loss in penalties to Chile.
In a match where both teams threw everything they had at each other in extra time after a goalless 90 minutes, it was arguably the team with bigger heart beating the team with the better feet in the penalty shootout with Messi missing his penalty. Lucas Biglia’s penalty was saved by Claudio Bravo and Chile won 4-2 to raise the Copa America, which was first introduced 100 years ago in 1916.
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, who scored with a panenka to the win the penalty shootout last time, put in a tireless shift for his country before being substituted in extra-time. Chile held on and kept pushing back an Argentine attack with Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi among others.
Sanchez took home the Golden Ball that is awarded to the player of the tournament, after running his socks off to create countless chances for his teammates besides grabbing 3 goals and 2 assists in 6 matches.
Chile qualified for the knockout stages after losing their opening match in Group D to Argentina after Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega scored two quick goals in the early minutes of the second half.
The defending champions responded by beating Bolivia with an extra-time penalty from Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal. Sanchez scored a brace in the second half of a 4-2 win against Panama to seal Chile’s progression to the quarterfinals.
Sanchez scored again in a 7-0 rout of Mexico in the quarter-finals and assisted two of Eduardo Vargas’ 4 goals. Mexico didn’t play as badly as the scoreline suggests but Chile’s attacking three of Sanchez, Vargas and Charles Aranguiz were in hot form with their high pressing, hard running and quick long balls. The momentum was carried on into the semifinals as they sailed to a comfortable 2-0 win over Columbia.
Chile’s new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi was appointed after Jorge Sampaoli, who masterminded Chile’s previous Copa America title in 2014, left to manage La Liga side Sevilla. Pizzi has opted to stick to his predecessor’s style of high-intensity pressing and quick transitions to attack, making very few personnel tweaks.
Sanchez played the full 90 mins in all the games(including the final) in this system and this provides much hope for Arsenal next season. The 27-year-old had missed a substantial part of the last Premier League season through injuries. The signs of Sanchez’s return to full fitness were evident towards the end of the season in which he finished with 17 goals in all competitions despite missing more than two months of action at the turn of the year.
This Copa America performance offers further signs that the fans at the Emirates can expect him to play a pivotal role with his exceptionally consistent work-rate and commendable attacking instincts next season.