Copa América Centenario final preview

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On Sunday night, the 45th Copa América final will take place between Argentina and Chile in New Jersey. Argentina will be looking to win a record-equalling 15th title, whereas their opponents will be hoping to win only their second and retain their title after winning the competition last year.

Just 12 months ago, Chile defeated Argentina on penalties on home soil after a goalless draw. La Roja won 4-1 on penalties as Gonzalo Higuaín and Éver Banega missed their penalties. Despite Argentina’s 14 previous titles, they have not won the tournament in 23 years and captain Lionel Messi will be desperate to win his first.

Route to the Final

 

The two sides where drawn together in Group B, along with Panama and Bolivia. They met in the opening game of the group stage with goals from Ángel Di María and Éver Banega sealing a 2-1 win for Chile. José Pedro Feunzalida scored in stoppage time for Chile but it was no more than a consolation goal. In the second round of fixtures, Chile struggled past Bolivia relying on a brace from Arturo Vidal, with his second goal coming from the penalty spot in the 10th minute of second half stoppage time. Argentina had no such problem as they disposed of Panama as Lionel Messi scored a brilliant nineteen minute hat-trick. In the final group games Chile came from 1-0 down to beat Panama 4-2 while Argentina beat Bolivia 3-0. Argentina topped the group on nine points with Chile coming 2nd with six points. 

In the quarter finals, Argentina thrashed Venezuela 4-1 with two goals from Gonzalo Higuaín with Lionel Messi and Erik Lamela providing the other two. It was Chile’s quarter final that would bring the surprise of the tournament. La Roja beat Mexico 7-0, with their player of the tournament so far Eduardo Vargas scoring four times. Chile had been less than convincing in the group stage but showed how damaging they could be.

Argentina then faced the hosts, the United States, in Houston. The task at first may have seemed daunting playing in host nation’s territory who were backed by a raucous support. However, Ezequiel Lavezzi calmed Argentine nerves as he capitalized on Brad Guzan’s indecisiveness after just three minutes. Argentina doubled their lead with Lionel Messi’s superb free kick. A Gonzalo Higuaín brace sealed a dominant 4-0 victory for La Albiceleste. Chile reached the final by beating Colombia 2-0 after early goals from Charles Aránguiz and Feunzalida.

Throughout the group stage injuries have affected Argentina, and with news that Ever Banega could miss the final, some sources are reporting that they may just have 13 players available for the final.

 

Key players: Argentina –

Lionel Messi is always a key player for whatever team he plays for. However, this tournament has seen the 29-year-old arguably play at his best for his national side. The Argentine captain has scored five times and provided four assists in just four games. He has also been awarded Man of the Match in three of these four games. His incredible hat-trick against Panama and his performance against the United States were definitely highlights. As well as these incredible performances, Messi broke Gabriel Batistuta’s all-time goal-scoring record as he scored his 55th goal of his international career. The five time Ballon D’Or winner has come so close to success with his country yet has failed to reach it. In the past two years Argentina, have lost the 2014 World Cup final and last year’s Copa América final. Success in an international tournament would cap-off his wonderful career.

Javier Mascherano 

Lionel Messi and other forwards such as Higuaín, Di María and Aguero often receive most of the attention. However, Javier Mascherano’s influence in the national team over the last thirteen years has been vital. The 32-year-old has been very impressive in this tournament and will be integral to Argentina if they are to succeed on Sunday night. The former Liverpool and West Ham midfielder’s leadership skills and incredible marking and tackling ability makes him an invaluable member of the squad. The 32-year-old is also vital to the team’s organisation and tactics. Barcelona team mate Dani Alves told the Brazilian media that he believes that Mascherano is the most underrated player in the world.

Gonzalo Higuaín

Any player who can keep Sergio Aguero out the starting eleven must be a very special player and this is exactly what Gonzalo Higuaín is. The striker scored 38 goals in 42 games for Napoli last season and has displayed his goal-scoring prowess scoring four goals in five games. Despite failing to score in the group stage, the 28-year-old has been superb in Argentina’s last two matches scoring two braces against Venezuela and the United States

Angel Di Maria

Since leaving Manchester United for Paris Saint Germain, Di Maria’s career has taken off again. The winger scored 10 goals and assisted 18 in 26 games for PSG last season. He is yet to make a big impact on the competition due to injury but looks set to return to the team for Sunday’s final. The 28-year-old scored in the only game he has started against Chile in the opening game. The only concern over Di Maria is that he may not be fully fit and it may be a big risk for Gerardo Martino to play him.

Chile –

Eduardo Vargas

The 26-year-old has been disappointing in club football recently but he is always vital internationally. He disappointed on loan at Queens Park Rangers and had a poor season at Hoffenheim this year. However, he has been Chile’s player of the tournament so far scoring six goals and providing one assist in five matches. The winger has been deployed in a more central role and this has been paying dividends. This was highlighted by him scoring four goals in Chile’s outstanding 7-0 over Mexico. Much of the focus on Chile will be on Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez however, Eduardo Vargas could be their most dangerous player.

Arturo Vidal

The Bayern Munich midfielder was disappointing in Chile’s defeat to Argentina earlier in the tournament. However, he has improved as the tournament has progressed and is still integral to his nation. However, the 29-year-old did miss the semi-final through suspension. Both his attacking and defensive strength has been showcased in the tournament He has registered two goals and two assists so far in four games, as well as winning the most duels in the tournament so far.

Alexis Sanchez

Chile’s all time top goalscorer has again been incredibly influential to the national side. Sanchez has scored three goals and scored two assists this tournament. The Arsenal forward provides quick movement and creativity, as well as an incredible work-rate. He has also won the most fouls at the tournament – with 16 – and will be player Argentina will have to keep quiet to succeed.

Head-to-Head:

Despite Chile winning when it mattered most 12 months ago, it’s Argentina who have the historical advantage. Chile have beaten Argentina just once in 90 minutes since 1973. In 88 games, Chile have won just seven to Argentina’s 59.

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