Messi chokes as Chile beats Argentina in PKs, win Copa America

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by Christian Araos

East Rutherford, N.J.- They came to see Lionel Messi — but no one expected him to choke.

In an eagerly awaited Copa America Centenario Final between Argentina and Chile, Messi was held without a shot from open play and ended his night skying a critical PK, contributing to Argentina’s 4-2 penalty shot loss against Chile.

The 82,026 people in MetLife Stadium saw a scoreless draw between Chile and Argentina and for the second time in as many years, Chile converted the final penalty to win the Copa America.

The stars could not live up to their reputations. Messi, Sanchez, Higuain and Vargas came into the Final with 18 goals between them in the tournament. None of them found the back of the net.

Brazilian ref Herber Lopes contributed to that result. The official came into the match with four red cards in his last five matches and he found the back of his pocket twice in this encounter. In a physical match with both teams quick to get stuck in, Marcelo Díaz’s two fouls on Messi were the first to draw yellow cards and he was sent off after 28 minutes. Lopes’ decision to influence the Final did not have the effect he desired as both teams continued their physical play. Arturo Vidal and Javier Mascherano got yellows for their scuffle, then Messi dove in the box to draw the fifth yellow of the first half. Lopes finished his dominant first half in the 43rd minute sending off Marcos Rojo for an over the ball challenge on Vidal.

Lopes grabbed most of the first half headlines, the rest went to Gonzalo Higuaín. For the second time in as many years, Higuaín had the opening goal at his feet. Gary Medal lost possession to Higuaín in front of his own area allowing him to walk in on Claudio Bravo but Higuaín slipped his shot wide of the far post. A miss as narrow and as agonizing as the one in Santiago.

Both teams started the second half with ten men and sought to deny the other the space Lopes created. Argentina continued to press up the field forcing Chile to play long balls over the top to their forwards. But while Argentina pressed for an opener they left openings on the break. Chile, however, lacked the decision making to capitalize. Argentina for its commitment, became more and more dependent on Messi to create from the dribble. Vidal, his marker turned stalker, prevented that from happening.

The tension broke later in the half as both sides looked for a goal to win the match inside 90 minutes. Vargas had enough space to shoot to the far post but Sergio Romero dove down to parry the shot. Moments later, Argentina broke forward and Sergio Aguero found space on the right side of the Chilean box. The blue-and-white crowd rose to its feet, leaned forward then ducked as the shot flew over the bar.

The groans grew into silence as extra time began. Hard challenges from Matias Kranevitter and Ramiro Funes Mori went unpunished. As did Chile’s giveaways in their own half. With Vargas and Sanchez too bruised and exhausted to continue, Chile collapsed into a defensive shell. Sanchez’s replacement, Francisco Silva, set up extra time’s climax fouling Messi 25 yards from goal.

The silence deafened New Jersey as Messi stood over the ball. Straight ahead from goal, cameras recording, his free kick deflected off the wall.

Into the penalty stanza, Messi was once again in focus. Arturo Vidal was denied by Sergio Romero in the opening penalty kick. Messi followed, and skied his shot far over the crossbar. Lucas Biglia was denied by Bravo, but Silva managed to beat Romero to give Chile their second consecutive Copa America title in two years.