Estadio Nacional Julio Mart nez PrA?danos, Santiago de Chile
4th July, 2015; 2000 GMT
Love thy neighbour, they say, but the mood in Santiago will be anything but a lovea when the respective nationa s football teams step on to the pitch. Argentina and Chile share the third-longest international border in the world, and come Saturday the line will divide the countries in more ways than one.
Argentina were the odds-on favourites coming into the tournament and they have done no harm to their status. Former Barcelona boss Tata Martino and the talent at his disposal have, however, been underwhelming with their performances. Boasting of probably the best strike force in the world, let alone the tournament, they struggled to score goals in the group stages. A nervy penalty-shootout win over Colombia in the quarters was anything but an indication of what was to come in the semi-finals. Lionel Messi was back to his best, Javier Pastore was looking like he was playing in a PSG shirt and Angel Di Maria finally looked like the man Manchester United broke the bank for, in that match against Paraguay.
In what is being seen as their best chance to end their trophy drought, the hosts have the London connection to thank for their superb run in the tournament, especially in the knockouts. No, not Alexis Sanchez of north London, but two former west London boys in Mauricio Isla and Eduardo Vargas. The ex-QPR men have stepped up their game in the last two matches, with Vargas scoring both the goals in a 2-1 victory over Peru in the semi-finals. Come finals day, with their passionate home crowd to back them, Chile might just have what it takes to pull one over the mighty La Albiceleste.
Team news and tactics
The very first winners of the Copa America held in 1916, La Roja have not won the tournament since. A 99-year drought, which by all plausible logic could end this Saturday. Backed by a loud home support in the national capital, this might just be their best chance to win the premier tournament in South American football.
The home side has been the entertainment package of the tournament so far, producing attacking football backed by superstars of the world game. The top scorers of the tournament by a country mile, Chile will be expected to continue their attacking vein of form. A 4-4-2 lineup, backed by the presence of Sanchez and Arturo Vidal up front, the tournamenta s best attack could easily test the best defence. The surprise package, however, has been the aforementioned Vargas. He has hit form right when it has mattered for the hosts and will be expected to produce yet again on the biggest stage. Even the often-ignored Jorge Valdivia could have a trick or two up his sleeve. They do not have a talisman like Messi in the team, but a fantastic team spirit and attractive football has gripped the host nation and no doubt, will bring the country to a standstill come kickoff time.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli has nothing to worry about in terms of injuries and suspensions coming into this match. Except some off-the-field trouble for him and his team, this tournament has been a dream. Making that dream turn to reality will be Sampaolia s job and he will have the vociferous backing of 70,000 people in the stadium and millions watching at home.
Possible lineup (4-4-2): Bravo (GK), Isla, Medel, Rojas, Albornoz; Aranguiz, Diaz, Vidal, Valdivia; Sanchez, Vargas
It is no secret the team revolves around Messi. He is, after all, the star that shines brightest among them. A career that has been stellar otherwise, but marred because of a a questionablea goal scoring record for his country. Ask any striker in the world if they would trade 46 goals in 101 matches for their arm, and they would. Not with Messi, the pressure here is so huge that he is expected to score every game a like he has almost done in his 410 goals in 480 appearances for his club.
Tata Martino has just Ezequiel Garaya s fitness to worry in terms of injuries or suspensions coming into this final. And with a 6-1 victory under their belt, it seems his team have peaked at the right time. They will be expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation as they have throughout the tournament. Javier Mascherano will sit in deep and cover the back four while the attack does its magic. An attack that includes no less than four world-class players, two of whom collected the Golden Boot in their respective leagues. So yeah, goals are expected of them. One might be inclined to believe that La Albiceleste are just one magical Messi performance away from collecting their first trophy in 22 years.
What has perhaps gone unnoticed, is the solidity of their back four who have conceded just 3 goals so far in the competition (excluding the penalty shootout, of course). Not only have they provided a solid base to build on, but also have helped shut out opposition when their attack was struggling to score in the group stages.
Possible lineup (4-3-3): Romero (GK), Zabaleta, Otamendi, Rojo, Garay; Mascherano, Biglia, Pastore; Di Maria, Aguero, Messi
Players to watch out for
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
We dona t believe we are capable of putting his influence on Argentina and world football in general into written words, so leave that be. Undoubtedly his biggest national team outing since that World Cup final loss in 2014, Messi knows the worlda s eyes will be on him. And when that is the case, more often than not, he delivers the goods. Lionel, the world is watching you!
Arturo Vidal (Chile)
By his own standards, he has had a quiet tournament so far. And yet, is up there on the goal-scoring charts with 3 goals in 5 games. The 28-year-old Juventus midfielder, born into poverty and raised in a working class suburb in the very city he will play on Saturday, will realize a life-long dream if he wins it for his team. Undoubtedly one of the best midfielders in the world at the moment, and perhaps the most sought-after, he can demolish any defence on his day.
- This is the first time these two nations are competing in the Copa America final against each other
- Of the 7 times they have played in Chile, Argentina are unbeaten with 3 wins and 4 draws.
- Argentina average 2.3 goals a game against Chile in all Copa America matches.
- On the other hand, Chile have scored 12 goals in 24 games – 0.5 goals a game – against their neighbours.
- Chile have appeared in 2 finals before this, in 1979 and 1987.
Chile 2-1 Argentina
While we debated the hearts and mind logic, we went with the former this time. A passionate set of fans, a 99-year trophy drought and an inspiring underdog story should put Chile in the right mindset to win this one. A fairytale ending to a cracking tournament is just what the world – except Argentina – wants to see.