2016 Copa America Centenario

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Lionel Messi, Argentina continue wait for major title after heartbreaking loss vs. Chile

1 Comment

UPDATE [1:30 a.m. ET]: Lionel Messi announces international retirement following Argentina’s Copa America loss to Chile.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –  Moments after Chile secured its defense of the Copa America title in a pressure-filled penalty shootout, Argentina’s star players including world-beater Lionel Messi stood in the middle of the field trying to come to terms with a third consecutive final defeat.

It didn’t matter that Copa America organizers were creating a concert just a few feet away. The players laid on the pitch, trying to move past letting yet another opportunity to end the country’s now 23-year wait for a major trophy slip out of their grasp. Considering how La Albiceleste had played throughout the tournament, it almost appeared as if it was destiny that they would win. That Messi would finally live up to his legacy as Diego Maradona’s successor and come home as a champion. Instead, the wait continues and the 29-year-old will have to face even more criticism.

After Arturo Vidal saw the opening penalty saved by Argentina’s Sergio Romero, Messi had a chance to give his side an early advantage but he messed up on his run up to the spot and sent his shot wide left. The miss was so heartbreaking that he couldn’t stand next to his teammates on shooting line and laid motionless next to them before being pulled up. But this loss, like the previous final losses in both last year’s Copa America and the 2014 World Cup again doesn’t fall on his shoulders.

Gonzalo Higuain appeared to receive a gift from the football gods when Gary Medel missed a backpass and the striker was left alone with a golden chance against Chile’s Claudio Bravo. Yet his shot went left just past the post instead of behind goal. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is.

Against Germany in 2014, Higuain had a very similar chance against Manuel Neuer and also missed. Then he followed suit in Copa America 2015 in both open play and penalties, where he completely missed target, skying above goal. It is questionable whether or not the Napoli striker should have started, considering his track record, with Sergio Aguero sitting on the bench.It’s the type of decision that has left managers like Tata Martino and his predecessor Alejandro Sabella having many sleepless nights. But Higuain wasn’t alone in missing chances.

[ MORE: Chile remain Copa America champions, defeating Argentina on PKs ]

Aguero and Angel Di Maria had their chances through the match but couldn’t find precision against a gutsy Chilean side that appears determined to prove that its success in 2015 wasn’t an aberration. La Roja now has two international titles in two years and one has to believe that bigger successes could be on the horizon. There’s the Confederations Cup next year and likely the the ambition to prove its quality in Russia in 2018. Considering that Vidal and fellow star Alexis Sanchez will still be in their primes, it isn’t a far-fetched expectation.

While Jorge Sampaoli, the manager who led Chile to its first-ever tournament win, is longer around, his successor Juan Antonio Pizzi continues Chile’s disruptive style of play that makes its competitors uncomfortable and at times even agitated. On paper, Argentina appeared to have a stronger squad but its frustration was evident, with several cards handed out to both teams throughout the match. Once La Roja gained a bit of control, it seemed as if they gained the psychological edge on their competitors and that’s ultimately what sealed them the title.

It is a shame to the winners that the focus will fall back on Messi, but that’s what happens when you have a five-time Ballon D’Or winner participating in a tournament. And there were definitely times where he showed that he was finally clicking with an Argentina side where he usually struggles to replicate his outer-worldly Barcelona form. Given a free role, the freedom enabled him to crush most sides in this tournament, even with limited minutes early on. But in the final, Chile managed to contain that threat.

Yet, there was one moment that in the final that struck as symbolic of Messi’s time with Argentina. Late on in the game, Messi dribbled from the halfway mark, trying to find a teammate to pass to. Seeing an opening he continued to drive ahead, cutting past four defenders to finally take a shot that skied above a goal. It was a moment that was brilliant and reminded you of Messi’s magic. But it almost seems like he’ll have to even better than his best just to finally get Argentina its long coveted trophy. At least until his teammates finally decide to lessen the burden.

Chile repeats as Copa America champions after dramatic penalty shootout

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

After last year’s thriller in Chile, it was only fitting that the 2016 Copa America Centenario final would be decided by penalty kicks.

[ MORE: De Bruyne proves key for Belgium in rout of Hungary ]

Claudio Bravo played hero for Chile once again on Sunday, defeating rivals Argentina 0-0 (4-2 on penalty kicks). Francisco Silva netted the final penalty attempt for the Chileans, giving them their second straight Copa America title.

Arturo Vidal had Chile’s first attempt saved by keeper Sergio Romero, before Lionel Messi skied his effort into the crowd to open the shootout.

The game’s first quality chance came in the 21st minute, when Gary Medel‘s mistake at the back led to a Gonzalo Higuain breakaway. The Napoli striker found his way in on goal, chipped the ball past Bravo but missed just wide. Medel, trying to make up for his mistake, came crashing into the post as the ball traveled out of play.

From there, the game took a drastic dip in chances, as referee Heber Lopes stole the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Chile’s chances of repeating took a massive hit just before the half hour mark, when Marcelo Diaz received his second yellow card in a span of 12 minutes, reducing La Roja to 10 men for the remainder of the match. However, Argentina was forced to play with 10 players as well, after Marcos Rojo was sent off just prior to halftime.

Opportunities in front of goal were scarce throughout regulation, with three combined shots on net from Chile and Argentina during the 90 minutes.

Euro, Copa America Today: Germany wants revenge, France wants momentum, Messi wants a title

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s the final day of wall-to-wall soccer of the summer. Soak it in.

A trio of European knockout stage games today are punctuated by the Copa America final. It doesn’t get much better than that.

[ LIVE: Follow EURO 2016 ]

The day starts with France defending its home turf in Euro 2016, as Les Bleus take on the Republic of Ireland. For France, it’s the start of what should be a deep run in the tournament. For the Irish, this is uncharted territory.

Next comes Germany and Slovakia, who met in a pre-tournament warmup match, with Slovakia pulling off the upset. Can they do it again? Hungary also meets Belgium, both looking for a date with Wales in the next round.

[ LIVE: Follow Copa America 2016 ]

Finally, tonight brings up the much-anticipated Copa America final, a rematch of last year’s title bout and another chance for Messi to exorcise his major tournament demons.

Essential reading: Can Messi win a major tournament? Marc Wilmots needs Belgium to be sharper. Hugo Lloris will break a big French record.

ICYMI: USA may have lost to Colombia again, but they looked much better. Portugal stunk against Croatia but won late anyways. Soccer’s funny, isn’t it?

EURO 2016, Game 40: France vs. Republic of Ireland

When: Sunday, 9 a.m. ET

Where: Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

Live updates: NBCSports.com

This could be your prototypical trap game, but the French will be rested, with over a week to prepare for their opening knockout round game. With England, Germany, Italy, and Spain all potentially on the horizon before France could even reach the final, there’s much less build-up for this game than there is looking ahead, but the Republic of Ireland will be up for its first-ever Euro knockout game.

EURO 2016, Game 41: Germany vs. Slovakia

When: Sunday, 12 p.m. ET

Where: Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille

Live updates: NBCSports.com

Germany fell to Slovakia 3-1 in a friendly less than a month ago, but this is completely different. The Germans played unbeatable defense throughout the group stage, and while the attack faltered, they will start hitting the target more effectively sooner rather than later. These two teams have met 10 times in their history, but only once in a competitive environment. Slovakia, coming off its first-ever clean sheet at a major tournament, has played well, but needs its playmakers to step up.

EURO 2016, Game 42: Hungary vs. Belgium

When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

Where: Stade Municipal, Toulouse

Live updates: NBCSports.com

Belgium came into the group stage like lambs and went out like lions, but they’ll need to keep their shooting boots on moving forward. Handed a berth into the “easier” side of the knockout bracket, but they draw a team in fine form. Hungary has lost just one of its last eight matches, winning three and drawing four. This could be a very interesting matchup between two teams in relatively uncharted territory.

2016 Copa America, Game 32: Argentina vs. Chile

When: Sunday, 8 p.m. ET

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

Live updates: NBCSports.com

It all comes down to this. The Copa America final between Argentina and Chile. One side looks to break a long-standing duck, while the other hopes to defend its crown from just a year ago. Lionel Messi is often knocked as a failure on the international stage, having never won a major tournament with his country. Now, ranked #1 in the world and part of one of the most stacked squads in international history, it will be his best chance ever to not just throw the monkey off his back, but also get revenge for a poor display in last year’s final.

Chile dispatches of Colombia en route to Copa America final

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Unfortunately for everyone in Chile’s way, the team seems to be getting better and better with every match at this summer’s Copa America Centenario.

[ MORE: Italy-Spain highlights Round of 16 at EURO 2016 ]

Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side continued where they left off against Mexico, picking up a 2-0 win against Colombia on Wednesday night in the tournament’s second semifinal.

Charles Aránguiz and Jose Fuenzalida gave the Chileans an early lead, notching goals in the seventh and 11th minutes, respectively.

A lengthy weather delay forced the teams into the locker room for an extended period during halftime, but play resumed after nearly two-and-a-half hours.

Needing a goal to find its way back into the match, Colombia came out strong to open the second half, and had a legitimate claim for a penalty kick in the 47th minute. Los Cafeteros employed effective high pressure and Daniel Torres nearly drew a spot kick after beating Gonzalo Jara to the ball on an errant pass and being taken down.

Colombia’s attempt at a comeback took a massive hit in the 57th minute, though, when Carlos Sanchez received his second yellow card. With the Colombians forced to play with 10 men for the remainder of the match, their uphill battle was simply too difficult to conquer.

Chile will take on Argentina in the tournament finale on Sunday night — a rematch of 2015 Copa America final — while Colombia will face the U.S. Men’s National Team in the third-place game on Saturday.

Jurgen Klinsmann, Michael Bradley downplay task ahead vs Argentina

Getty Images
1 Comment

The USMNT manager and captain are both proceeding with their preparations for Tuesday’s Copa America semifinal with a sense of normalcy.

No matter they’re matched up with a five-time Ballon d’Or winner or the number-one ranked team in the world.

Ahead of Tuesday night’s contest against Argentina, Jurgen Klinsmann and Michael Bradley are instead ready for the challenge that awaits them while still being understanding of the task ahead.

“We don’t want to make this out to be a Mission Impossible,” Michael Bradley said. “It’s 90 minutes. It’s a semifinal.” Those are all absolute, indisputable facts.

“We are not scared of them at all,” head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said, echoing his captain’s thoughts.

The United States will face Lionel Messi and Argentina with a chance to not only make an enormous statement among world soccer, but to also reach the Copa America semifinals for the first time in history.

However, amid all the confidence, there was also a dose of reality, and Jurgen spun it to hit out at US fans and media, as he has more than once during the successes of this tournament. “There will be setbacks, and there’s also a lot of explanation from your [the media’s] end that needs to be done to the casual soccer fan or kind of the more emotional soccer fan, so we still go through a lot of explaining why certain things happen when there is a setback, how you take that and so on.” You can read the full comment here.

Coming into the tournament, the United States had suffered a number of setbacks over the past year, and many speculated that had the US not advanced from its Copa America group, Klinsmann’s job could be on the line. Now, with the team in the semifinals, that all appears to be well in the rear view mirror.