Chile will seek to win their first ever major trophy while Argentina are looking to end a trophy drought.
History is generally favourable to hosts in big finals. The last time a home team lost a Copa America final would date back to 1997 when a Ronaldo-led mighty Brazil smashed hosts Bolivia 3-1. In the 2000s, the only time hosts lost a big football final was when Portugal succumbed to surprise package Greece 1-0 in UEFA Euro Championships 2004.
Argentina’s last two forays in football finals ended in acute tragedy. In the 2004 Copa America, they dominated and led Brazil 2-1 till Adriano equalised off the last kick of the game. That started the burly striker’s rise to stardom as Brazil won the trophy in the penalty shootout.
Brazil became the venue of the Albiceleste’s heartbreak around a year ago in World Cup 2014 finals. Germany substitute Mario Gotze scored late in extra time in a game, where, till that point, in the stalemate, Leo Messi and co had better chances to win.
Argentina’s generation after generation of glittering stars have won nothing for their country post the golden period of 1978-1993, most of which were the “Maradona” years.
Chile are yet to win any major tournament in their 105 years of footballing history.
Despite the above, Argentina start favourites come Saturday. They have been growing as a unit as the tournament progressed. After unconvincing group stage performances, they bossed their quarterfinal encounter where Colombia barely managed to enter their box once. Yet the goals were drying up as a squad consisting of Messi, Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero, Tevez, Pastore and Lavezzi averaged one per game till that point.
Come the semifinal and the sky blue and white exploded. Six strikes and all of which would have scared local fans. At the same time, Tata Martino’s defensive unit have been rock solid conceding just three goals entire tournament. Custodian Romero was a spectator during most knockout games.
Red hot Chile
That won’t be the case on Saturday though. Chile are the highest scorers in this event with 12 goals, conceded just four and have played all their games in Estadio Nacional, Santiago – venue of the final. Argentina have no sniff of this venue and the hosts, crowds, pitch and noise promises hostility. Simply put, the best two teams of the tournament, will slug it out in an attempt to carve a name for themselves in history.
Chile, though, haven’t yet faced any opposition of Argentina’s quality in this Copa America; and have been extremely lucky to get favourable decisions in their knockout games. They played majority of their last two games with a man advantage, thanks to abysmal adjudication. La Roja have an additional day’s rest advantage too going into the final.
Refereeing in this quadrennial event has been of questionable standards, as has always been the case with South American officials. Almost every game has seen aggrieved players surrounding the men in black during breaks. It’s tough to see a 50:50 decision in the final being given against the hosts, hence Argentina have a huge disadvantage there.
Copa America ruling of a penalty shootout after normal time (90 mins) has encouraged negative play. Each and every team is concentrating on protecting their citadels first. Argentina themselves have conceded just one in 360 minutes and were solid in their Quarter Final penalty kicks. Chile haven’t yet faced a penalty shootout and wouldn’t like to face one in the finals as home pressure could adversely impact penalty takers.
However, with the possibility of extra time in the final, it will be curious to see if the tie will need the extra 30 minutes to decide the winner.
Chile are expected to be rock solid and hold fort for 90 mins in game where their rivals will have most of the possession. Their best bet is to win in normal time from counter attack. A thriller is on the cards with a passionate footballing nation on their home turf on one side and a favourite team lead by the best footballer on earth at the other end.
Lionel Messi’s tears from the World Cup 2014 final loss and constant accusations that he hasn’t won anything for country are likely the spur him on. A magical season, yet again, for Barcelona could personally end up as best of his career should his nation triumph at Santiago.
Chile – Gonzalo Jara continues his suspension and will play no part in this football final, for his antics.
Argentina – Ezequiel Garay missed the semifinal due to illness but will likely start ahead of Martin Demichelis.
Chile – Jorge Valdivia, Mauricio Isla
Argentina – Angel Di Maria, Javier Pastore
Prediction2-1 to Chile in normal time in a controversial and fiery encounter. If it goes to penalties, then my money will be on Argentina.