The 2015 Copa America final promises to be a belter in Santiago.
Host nation Chile face Argentina in the final, as Lionel Messi aims to win his first piece of major silverware with La Albiceleste.
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Chile has never won the Copa America before and its been 22 years since Argentina last prevailed. So, whoever succeeds on Saturday will be entitled to quite the celebration.
Below is a look at three key battles to watch out for. You can follow the Copa America final follow live here, and we will have updates, a recap and analysis from the game that will crown the champions of CONMEBOL.
Lionel Messi vs. Gary Medel
The genius vs. the Pitbull. Lionel Messi has been magisterial for most of Argentina’s Copa America tournament. He set up three goals in their 6-1 semifinal drubbing of Paraguay and embarrassed more Paraguay defenders with this audacious run. The man tasked with stop messing is certainly up for a scrap. Gary Medel plays in a holding midfield role for Inter Milan but the reverse Javier Mascherano (more on him, shortly) excels for Chile at center back. His ability to read plays, step out of the back four with the ball and extinguish fires before they’ve even begun to smolder make him perfect for the oft languid pace of international soccer in South America. Messi explodes into life without warning and Medel will have to be at his best to keep Barcelona’s superstar at bay.
Plus, you know, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain will be floating around too. All three have looked razor-sharp in this tournament with seven goals between them. Messi is desperate to win a first Copa America medal but he will have to get the better of Medel to lead Argentina to glory.
Javier Mascherano vs. Arturo Vidal
Before this game, Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano has tried to play down the intense battle which will likely play out in the Chilean capital.
“I hope that people can understand that football is a sport, not war,” Mascherano said. “The past is the past. We must not put sport in the middle of politics. Chile and Argentina are brother countries, we have to show mutual respect. If we stoop to aggression and violence, we lose that message of respect. Sport is about trying to be healthy and having fun, not a war.”
Well, expect the midfield area to be a war-zone on Saturday. It will be home to a pivotal battle in determining the winner as Arturo Vidal and Mascherano square off. Vidal has redemption on his mind, as his DUI car crash scandal during the group stages shocked the world but Chile stood by him. Oh how Vidal would love to repay the faith shown in him and led his nation to glory.
He also has a bone to pick with Mascherano as the Barca man beat Vidal’s Juventus in the UEFA Champions League final less than a month ago. Mascherano operates as a center back for Barca but in his usual holding midfield role for Argentina he is a machine. Vidal may start on the right-hand side of a diamond formation for Chile but expect him to drift inside to try and link up with Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas up top. If Mascherano can cut that supply line to Sanchez and Vargas off, Argentina’s chances of glory will increase exponentially.
Martin Demichelis vs. Alexis Sanchez
If Chile keep things tight then this is the one matchup you really fancy them to come out on top. Sanchez’s pace and direct play saw him give Demichelis all kinds of problems when Arsenal faced Manchester City this season in the Premier League. The veteran Argentine defender, 34, has superb positioning but Sanchez’s sheer persistence and pace could be too much for him to handle. If Chile can get the ball up to Sanchez frequently, expect Demichelis and other Argentine defenders to be drawn to the Arsenal forward. If that happens, the so-far lethal Vargas (he leads the tournament in goals with four) could have a field day. Sanchez has only scored once so far this summer, but expect the shackles to be well and truly off on Saturday.