One year after meeting in the final of the previous, “regular” Copa America, Argentina and Chile once again play for the title, this time as the closing act of the Copa America Centenario.
It’s hard to call Argentina favorites, despite their 4-0 win over the United States in the semifinal, and despite the presence of one, Lionel Messi, with 5 goals in this tournament, becoming the all-time leading scorer for the Albiceleste. Messi is the best footballer in the world, but he’s been with the national team for a decade, and all he has to show for it are losses in finals, including the 2014 World Cup. Winning the tournament’s MVP award didn’t make it any better. He pretty much refused that honor a year ago after losing to Chile in the 2015 Copa final.
After losing their opening match to Argentina (2-1), Chile have been unstoppable. They’ve won four in a row, including that out-of-nowhere 7-0 win over Mexico, followed by an impressive victory against Colombia in the semis. Eduardo Vargas, a riddle wrapped up inside a mystery for his inability to break through in European football, is the leading scorer in the tournament. But Chile, just like in every match over the last few years, have quality and star power to match up well with everyone, including Argentina.
But it’s impossible to overlook Argentina, despite their midfield injuries, and the usual, hovering concern over the difference in quality between their attack and defense. They have won all their matches in this tournament, Messi is playing his best ever football in a Copa, and Chile aren’t a team to close down and simply try to hit on counters. They have enough confidence and talent to try and make this match about them, and leave space and openings for Messi and whoever lines up alongside him up front to wreck havoc.
As he celebrates his 29th birthday, Messi doesn’t need to do any more convincing. Many view him as the best player of all-time, even if his achievements with the national team are underwhelming. Titles shouldn’t be what players are judged for, but history remembers those with titles better than others. Messi, as surprising as it is to realize, isn’t getting any younger, and will be 31 when the next World Cup arrives. Now is as good a time as any to start winning things for Argentina, and add a little bit of extra on his ever growing legend.