Even the greatness of Lionel Messi and the rest of the world's No. 1-ranked team could not separate Chile from the title of Copa America champions.
Chile outlasted Argentina in the Copa America Centenario final at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night to successfully defend their 2015 trophy, edging La Albiceleste 4-2 in a penalty-kick shootout after a taut 0-0 deadlock over 120 minutes of play.
Messi was his usual influential self in the run of play, only to stun the millions looking on when he fired his spot kick – Argentina's first – over the crossbar. That set the stage for his FC Barcelona teammate, Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, to play the hero by saving Lucas Biglia's attempt, while Francisco Silva netted the clincher to spark celebrations among La Roja and their fans.
Threats were abundant in a breathless first half, but clear scoring chances rare – until the 21st minute, when a mistake by Chile defender Gary Medel allowed Gonzalo Higuain to scamper into the clear and bear down on Bravo with the ball at his feet.
Higuain cut right and lifted his shot over the diving Bravo, and the entire stadium watched with bated breath as the ball bounced a few inches wide of the left post, which Medel crashed into painfully as he desperately sprinted back hoping to clear the effort off the line.
As the game's tone grew more and more physical, Brazilian referee Heber Lopes was thrust into the spotlight as he gave Chile's Marcelo Diaz a second yellow card for impeding Messi's surging run.
Argentina did not have too long to enjoy the numerical advantage, however. Lopes brandished a straight red to Marcos Rojo for a tackle from behind on Arturo Vidal a few minutes before halftime, leaving both sides with 10 men.
Understandably, neither side could, or would, sustain that breakneck tempo in the second half. But the intensity of the occasion remained riveting as the clash made its way into extra time deadlocked at 0-0.
Both sides went inches away from scoring via headers in the first half of extra time, only to be denied by sterling saves from Sergio Romero and Bravo, but it was the latter who seized the moment in the shootout.
1. LEO'S LAMENT: Few who've watched his illustrious career closely would deny that Messi one of the greatest of all time, even if you believe that he's still a bit short of the likes of Pele and Maradona. But his confounding habit of falling just short of international trophies continued here, and what really capped the tragedy was his spot kick, which flew well high of the target, reminiscent of Roberto Baggio's stunning miss in a similar situation in the 1994 World Cup final.
2. REF RAGE:The performance of referee Heber Lopes will be discussed at length in the days, and perhaps years, ahead. The Brazilian was quick to trim Chile's lineup down to 10 men with the second yellow for Diaz, and then moved even more severely to send Rojo to an early shower. Was he compensating for his earlier decision? Was he cut out for the massive task of keeping this tense match on the rails? Both sides will discuss it for some time to come.
3. CHI CHI CHI…LE LE LE: The final was a tossup between two excellent teams, and that fact alone is a compliment to La Roja, who were well beaten by Argentina when these two met in their first game of the tournament. Chile's commitment and spirit was unstinting, epitomized by Alexis Sanchez, who soldiered on through several painful-looking knocks before exiting after 104 hard-charging minutes. But Bravo got the biggest redemption, rebounding from a couple of howlers earlier in the month.