The defining image of the Copa América Centenario final was taken by an amateur photographer in the stands.
Claudio Rodríguez, a 41-year-old cleaning company worker from River Edge, N.J., was sitting on the second level of MetLife Stadium in Section 247 on Sunday with a growing sense of frustration. A diehard Argentina fan, Rodríguez couldn’t believe how isolated Lionel Messi was in his attacking forays against Chile’s ferocious collective defense.
“I was watching the game, and I started focusing on taking pictures of Messi,” says Rodríguez, a father of five. “Every picture I took, I saw Messi alone. Messi against six! Messi against four! Messi against nine! This is unbelievable. Where are the other [Argentine] guys?”
So Rodríguez started snapping away, using his Canon Rebel camera with a 70-300mm zoom lens. “I’ve loved taking pictures since I was 12 years old,” he says.
One image taken in the second half told the story best. Messi is dribbling the ball against a small army of Chileans. In the photograph there is only one Argentine (Messi) and nine Chileans—every single Chilean field player, since Marcelo Díaz had been sent off earlier in the game.
The photograph summed up the final better than any written story could do. The Chilean defense was swarming, neutralizing Messi in a way that no other team had done during the tournament. Meanwhile, Argentina didn’t do nearly enough to support Messi, who looked as if he was trying to take on everyone by himself. Here was the visual evidence that Messi with Argentina is nothing like Messi with Barcelona.
Rodríguez posted the image on Tuesday afternoon, and his friend Norberto Pino reposted it at 4:38 p.m. ET Tuesday afternoon on his Twitter page, @MisterNo_, which has 203,000 followers.
It went viral.
By Wednesday at noon, Pino’s Twitter post had 6,300 retweets and had been picked up around the world.
Rodríguez’s indelible photograph called to mind the famous picture (shot by SI’s Steve Powell) of Diego Maradona being marked by six Belgians at the 1982 World Cup. What’s fascinating about that Maradona photograph is that it was actually a bit misleading, since he was receiving the ball from a free kick and was merely facing the Belgians who had been in the free kick wall.
But much like Powell’s famous image, Rodríguez’s photo from Sunday was taken from a decidedly sub-prime position far from the field. There’s something inspiring about that. You don’t need a front-row seat to do something special.
In fact, you don’t even need to be a professional photographer.