Chile & Argentina Wait To Discover Who Will Break New Ground In The Copa America Final


One enduring run will end in Santiago on Saturday, but that will only continue a dominant trend of a tournament.

This Copa America has repeatedly broken new ground, and its new champions will do much the same.

It started with Bolivia winning their first game in the competition in 18 years, to also qualify for the quarter-finals. There, defending champions Uruguay came up against the hosts for the fourth time in five tournaments, but this time couldn’t do their usual trick of spoiling the party and were knocked out. Brazil went out at the same stage and failed to reach the semi-final for only the second time in the last eight Copa Americas. Their aura has evaporated.

It is perhaps appropriate, then, that both Chile and Argentina are on the brink of ending long droughts because they themselves have changed.

FBL-COPAM2015-CHI-PER : News Photo

Chile have shed the purism they are renowned for in South America, at least in terms of what they have been willing to do to get this far.

They have adopted an ultra-pragmatism, from the decision to keep Arturo Vidal in the squad after his drink-driving incident, to the clear provocation and gamesmanship from Gonzalo Jara towards Edinson Cavani in that quarter-final against Uruguay.

Argentina have meanwhile reclaimed some of their old purism, producing perhaps their best football in over a decade. The blistering attacking cohesion of their own quarter-final with Colombia was the type of football that a side of such quality should have been offering long before, and the subsequent 6-1 release against Paraguay was the performance they’d waited a generation for.

Victory on Saturday will bring their first trophy in 22 years, ending the longest wait for silverware in their history. Chile, however, have had to suffer even more.

They hope to win the first trophy in their entire history.

FBL-COPAM2015-ARGENTINA-TRAINING : News Photo

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The game itself may only be won by challenging old orthodoxies too. Argentina have by far the superior talent, but it might not necessarily be in their interests to try and assert that by dominating possession, given that the one thing that Chile haven’t quite been able to do in this Copa is break with the speed they so love.

That is the consequence of a relatively forgiving run to the final, even if the match against Uruguay was fraught with anxiety and tension. Although Chile have consistently been the best team in this tournament and put in the most convincing performances - at least until Argentina’s exquisite exhibition against Paraguay - they have not yet been fully tested.

Manager Jorge Sampaoli seems to know this, if the indications from Chilean training are anything to go by. The suggestions are that the coach, himself an Argentine, will drop Jorge Rojas and go for a more defensive midfield while bringing in Francisco Silva to man-mark Leo Messi.

That touches on what is probably the most important issue of this final, and what it will likely swing on: if Messi performs at a level anywhere even close to his best, Argentina will win.

It’s that simple, and that difficult for Chile. Sampaoli is said to be absolutely obsessed with the challenge of stopping him. The irony is that Messi himself seems to have stopped scoring, but was still more influential than ever in a semi-final display of scarcely believable quality.

In the mixed zone after that match, the number 10 was visibly thrilled, unable to stop smiling. It was as if so much pressure had suddenly gone. Argentina certainly played like that, and there was said to be “euphoria” in their dressing room after the tense penalty shoot-out win over Colombia in the quarter-final.

FBL-COPAM2015-ARG-COL : News Photo

Having endured a game in which it seemed they were fated to lose after so many missed chances, Gerardo Martino’s side then performed as if they had been released.

Chile, by contrast, look to be increasingly feeling the pressure.

Finals are often matches strangled by the tension of the occasion, and this has more than most, given the historical dimensions.

On Saturday, for one of these teams, a weight will have lifted and a wait will end.

 

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