Ángel Di María helps end Argentina’s trophy drought
Ángel Di Maria’s 22nd-minute lob over Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson was enough to end Argentina’s 28-year wait for an international trophy. Along with Argentina, their captain Lionel Messi also (finally) filled the international trophy-shaped void of his exhaustive illustrious trophy cabinet.
Argentina started the final with a team very different from the one that had seen out the penalty shootout against Colombia. Brazil went with an unchanged team, continuing with the same eleven that held on to a nervy win against Peru.
The visitors got off to a strong start, maintaining most of the possession for the majority of the opening ten minutes. An early Fred challenge saw the Manchester United man get booked inside three minutes. Argentina’s early domination of the ball and persistent attacks eventually bore fruit as a long ball from Rodrigo De Paul found its way through left-back Renan Lodi and was easily collected by Di María, who made Brazil pay for their defensive error by lifting it over Ederson.
The Albiceleste were off, leaving hosts having to play catch up.
Brazil immediately responded, with Casemiro forcing a save from Emiliano Martínez minutes after the goal. The rest of the first half saw Brazil tirelessly run into Argentina’s back line, albeit without much success.
The second half got underway with Brazil’s coach Tite bringing on Liverpool front man Roberto Firmino. The hosts were on the attack from the get-go in the second half and even equalised through Richarlison, but the Everton striker had his goal disallowed by the VAR. Brazil, though, didn’t stop the attack, and Richarlison followed up his disallowed goal with a shot on target from point-blank range which was well saved by Martínez.
In what was billed as a showdown between Messi and Neymar, both the superstars had been relatively quiet up until then, with Messi taking the occasional shot and Neymar making a run or two before being stopped by the Argentine defence.
Neymar, though, had a tad more difficult time than Messi, and the Argentines were not in the mood to give the PSG star any room or space. Neymar was being brought down repeatedly all over the pitch, although the hosts didn’t manage to take advantage of any of the ensuing free-kicks.
The nerves were definitely showing, along with the high tension, when Nicolás Otamendi brought down Neymar with a hard tackle that saw both players momentarily having a heated exchange, before the Argentine was shown a yellow card with less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining.
The final minutes saw Brazil throw attack after attack at Argentina, but the visitors did just enough to make sure they didn’t concede. Messi, who had had a relatively quiet game by his standards, had a golden opportunity in the dying minutes to convert from a counter, but the little magician couldn’t add to his goal tally.
As the whistle blew after 94 hard-fought minutes, the Argentine players rushed to their captain, falling to the ground one on top of another, faces buried in the hands, trying to hold back the emotions. The Brazilians had a similar reaction, but it was a feeling of sorrow, knowing they came so close to winning the cup on hoe soil.
Messi, who was visibly emotional, had a heartful moment with Neymar after the match, consoling his former Barcelona teammate in a warm embrace. If anyone knew the heartache of waiting for an international trophy, it was the 34-year-old. Argentina lifted their first international trophy since 1993 and their 15th Copa América title.
Although Messi didn’t have a ‘Messi-like’ performance in the final, the title largely came down to the Argentine’s efforts and hard work throughout the tournament to see his side through. Ending up with the golden boot, most assists, and the Player of the Tournament trophy was simply icing on the cake for the 34-year-old. Questions have been asked throughout his decorated career about his dedication and work ethic whilst playing for the national team, but Messi’s performance at the 2021 Copa América should be a fitting answer to silence all his critics.