As Chile celebrate their first continental title, questions will be raised about Argentina’s capability in big finals.The World Cup 2014 and now the final at Copa América were lost not because they were outplayed but outfought.
The final of the Copa America in Santiago de Chile turned into a jubilant affair for the hosts, who won the trophy for the first time in the 99-year history of the tournament. On four previous occasions they have reached the final but were beaten by superior opposition. The story was said to continue at least on paper as Chile faced Argentina, one of the best teams in the world; not just on the basis of the presence of Lionel Messi buton the whole as an attacking team they are quite a sight to watch. It was said before the final that Chile thus far have had a lucky competition as they have not had faced Argentina. The same has to be said about Argentina with regards to the final. Or with the finals they have reached over the last years as each one of them they have lost. Lost not because they were outplayed. Each time they faced equal opposition but had to account for their nerves or for the luck of the opposition. The latter is true for Germany in last year’s final.
The gravest issue of course is that of Lionel Messi once more not being able to a trophy after the final whistle. On the surface it looks as though the problem is endemic with Messi and Argentina. This would be unfair and grossly misjudging the team set up and the interactions on the pitch. It is wrong to put all the blame on Messi alone for football is a game played by eleven men against eleven men.
One of those men in question is Gonzalo Higuain. He had the biggest chance to seal the game for the Albiceleste in the last minute of normal time but he put the ball into the side netting. Was it nerves? Was it a mistimed pass by Ezequiel Lavezzi? Had the latter better passed to Messi who was continuing his run after passing the ball to Lavezzi on the left wing? We will never know. It is interesting however that it is once more Higuain who missed such chances. It was him who put his ball wide in the World Cup Final against Germany last year. He was also unlucky having scored a goal that was offside. In last season’s Europa League he also missed a penalty to secure the qualification of his side Napoli for the final. In Santiago he also missed one. Though again, to single him out for Argentina’s loss would be unfair. It’s a team game.
Lavezzi was only on the pitch because of an injury to Angel DiMaria. His absence rose a few question marks in last year’s World Cup Final. He missed it due to injury. A few months later it was him who tore Germany apart in a friendly. He was involved in almost all goals and clearly the man of the match. Could his presence have changed the outcome of the final last Saturday? We will never know.
There is no single player to be held responsible.
The issue might be with team selection and tactics. Argentina is an entirely different set up than is Barcelona. One could argue that the Catalans are built around Messi. This is just fair enough; any coach not centering the game round Messi or at least placing importance on him in the team’s game plan would be foolish and should not consider taking a job at this level again.
Chile did their best to mute Messi during the game and succeeded in the second half of the 90 minutes. The flea as Messi is nick named became invisible, or almost invisible. He rarely managed to outplay an opponent. If he did so he was expected by two Chileans or even three who covered for their team mate. Was team spirit the reason Chile prevailed? Maybe. It is always easier to play with the back against the wall when faced with a mighty opponent. Though Chile did not hide away. They have had their chances. It was Alexis Sanchez who almost won it for them but his ball flew over the cross bar after Zabaleta challenged him and pushed him off the ideal path towards goal. Think of Italy at the 2006 World Cup. Just before the tournament kicked-off the calciopoli scandal erupted and Italian football found itself alone with few friends to ask for help. In this moment Marcello Lippi rallied his squad and created a siege mentality. It was their key to success. Similarly, Chile’s coach Jorge Sampaoli stimulated his team to face the best player of our generation and his team, Argentina. It may be a simple thing but it paid off. Of course, penalties to decide a game is a cruel measure to end a game that was so frantic and good to watch. But it is nerves that win matches. Mess kept his calm when facing Claudio Bravo from the spot. The moment Higuain hammered his over the bar, it was over. The mental advantage was with Chile and they duly converted their kicks, igniting a worthy celebration.
It is too easy to blame Lionel Messi alone for the failure of Argentina Though if he lifts the Champions League trophy next year, all will be forgotten. Or will it?