One year on, and it seems little has changed in the South American soccer scene. Argentina and Chile, the No. 1 and No. 5-ranked teams in the world, will meet Sunday evening in the Copa America Centenario final, a re-match of the game that Chile took on penalty kicks back in July 2015. The game will also mark the second time the two teams have met, after Argentina took a 2-1 victory from the teams' group-stage encounter on June 6, the tournament opener for both sides.
When you consider the group-stage game last year’s final and a World Cup qualifying encounter between the two sides in March, a 2-1 win for Argentina, and it’s safe to say the two sides are probably sick of seeing each other.
It’ll be no issue for neutral fans, though, who were treated to some scintillating play from both sides in the group-stage game, and will once again get to see South America’s two most exciting teams battle it out. Being a tournament final, this one may be a more staid encounter than the frenetic meeting we saw when the teams met in California almost three weeks ago, but you can still expect to see some outstanding technical soccer played out over a tactically intriguing battle.
More Messi magic?
You didn’t think a mere knee in the back would stop Lionel Messi from being Lionel Messi, did you? The Barcelona superstar has re-asserted his status as one of the all-time greats with a five-goal, four-assist performance in the Copa America, capped off by his stunning free kick in Argentina’s 4-0 semifinal rout of the United States.
Chile must now come up with a plan to contain La Pulga, who has been given free reign to pop up anywhere on the field and wreak his unique brand of havoc. Luckily for La Roja, they will be welcoming back tenacious Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal, who was suspended for their semifinal win over Colombia. Vidal’s energy and fresh legs should be a big element for any plan to stop Messi, but the reality is that only an outstanding collective effort from the whole team is likely to hold up the four-time Ballon d’Or winner. And even if that happens, Chile will still have to contend with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero – only the leading scorer in Serie A last season and one of the best forwards in the Premier League.
Though Messi has deservedly taken many of the plaudits this summer, winger Angel Di Maria has often been just as important to many of Argentina’s winning efforts, and has already scored two competitive goals against Chile this year, once in World Cup qualifying in March and again in the group-stage match between the two teams.
The only problem for Argentina? Di Maria’s status for the final is in serious doubt. He missed their win over the United States after suffering a muscle injury in the team’s group-stage win over Panama.
Di Maria will be far from the only injury miss for Argentina – Ezequiel Lavezzi is out of the tournament after suffering a broken elbow in a tumble over the advertising boards in the win against the United States. Midfielder Augusto Fernandez is also uncertain after picking up an injury against the US, and could be replaced by Lucas Biglia. Defender Marcos Rojo, midfielder Javier Pastore and winger Nicolas Gaitan (a possible Di Maria replacement) all trained separately from the team on Thursday but have not been ruled out:
Chile will also be short in midfield despite Vidal’s return, after Pablo Hernandez suffered a knee injury against Colombia. Marcelo Diaz, one of the best midfielders at the tournament, is also a fitness doubt for the final after picking up an injury in Chile’s quarterfinal win vs. Mexico and missing the semifinal, likely leaving Mexico-based midfielder Francisco Silva to take his place.