With disappointment glazed over the last three Copa America finishes, Argentina has a glorious opportunity to win its first Copa America since 1993.
Those previous three tournaments have seen Argentina finish second to Brazil, second to Brazil, and a disastrous quarterfinals loss to eventual champions Uruguay last time out still burned in the memories of many fans who saw it first hand as the 2011 hosts. That can all be wiped away today.
Argentina must get by hosts Chile at 4:00 p.m. ET in Santiago in order to put themselves back on top. They come into the finals soaring off a 6-1 demolition of Paraguay that put all the scoring struggles of the earlier matches in the rear-view mirror. To that point, Argentina’s feared attack of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, and Carlos Tevez had produced just four goals in four matches, but they exploded in the semifinal round to roar their way into the final.
This time, though, things look to be a little more difficult. Chile has been galvanized by its home fans, cheered on to a pair of tight, one-goal games here in the knockout rounds. Unlike Argentina, who have a powerful front core of superstars, Chile has bulldozed its way to the finals through a complete team effort. Right or wrong, Arturo Vidal put his drunk driving accident behind him to become a true team leader, while Alexis Sanchez brought his fantastic 2014/15 club form with him to South America.
Chile have made the final round of the Copa America twice, but have failed to seal the deal both times. They fell to Paraguay in 1979 in a three-leg finals format, and again were bested in 1987 falling to Uruguay. Both times they failed to score a goal in the final match. A win today would be the country’s first-ever international trophy in 99 years of competition.
There’s plenty of turmoil within the host country’s big opportunity. Defender Pepe Rojas, the replacement for suspended Gonzalo Jara, was the butt of jokes in the local papers for a poor performance in the semifinal win over Peru. Plenty of players took to social media to support their teammate, and newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias was forced to apologize for mocking its own country’s player.
Argentina is the clear favorite, but there will be much pressure on Chile to make history in front of their home fans. The weight of an entire country’s hopes and expectations can serve to push a team forward, or it can crush them. With this Copa America coming to a close, one side will breathe the sigh of relief that comes with ending a drought, while the other’s quest for a trophy will continue on.