First Look: Argentina vs. Chile in Copa America final rematch
The Copa America final is set, and it's a familiar one.
Argentina and Chile will vie for the Copa America title for a second straight summer after each easily dispatched its semifinal opponent. Argentina overran the USA in a 4-0 result on Tuesday night, while Chile blitzed Colombia out of gate, picking up where it left off in the quarterfinal against Mexico and advancing after a weather-delayed 2-0 win.
In addition to meeting in last year's final, which Chile won on penalty kicks, the two sides engaged in one of the more entertaining games of this Copa America, opening group play against one another. Argentina prevailed, 2-1, with Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega scoring and assisting for each other before Chile nicked one in the last minute.
Here are a few early thoughts on this highly anticipated matchup:
Argentina is the favorite
And how could it not be? This is a team on a mission and it has essentially coasted throughout the competition. Led by a motivated Lionel Messi, who has five goals and five assists in very limited action and is in line for another Golden Ball for his trophy room, Argentina is positioned to end its famed 23-year title drought.
With expectations come great pressure, though. This will be Argentina's third straight major final, and after experiencing massive disappointment in each of the last two, managing the psychological game will be part of manager Tata Martino's most important tasks in the build-up to Sunday. Remember, Argentina thrashed Paraguay 6-1 in its semifinal last summer only to be stifled by Chile in the final. Carrying the confidence of Tuesday's win over the USA can only take it so far.
That said, with Messi being Messi, Higuain bringing his scorching-hot Napoli form to the knockout stage, a midfield showing extreme dedication and a widely questioned defense that is holding its own, La Albiceleste has a fantastic chance to end a painful chapter for a golden generation and bring some silverware back to Buenos Aires.
But speaking of pressure ...
Holy Moly Part II
If you remember one of Jurgen Klinsmann's first press conferences of Copa America, he raved about Argentina and Chile's group matchup and the pressure, pace and skill with which they played throughout, dropping the very honest and unfiltered:
So expect more of the same. It's a final, so there should be some early nerves, but these teams are both playing at an outrageous level, they know each other quite well and won't be deploying any special game plan. Neither is going to be intimidated or overwhelmed by the other. It'll be breakneck soccer, and it will entertain. Argentina and Chile have pressured their opponents into submission without hesitation, and whichever one can do it to a greater effect Sunday will be the one taking the rematch. It was Argentina on June 6–without Messi.
Absences could play a role
The caveat to Argentina's success: The team is at far from 100%. Ezequiel Lavezzi is out with a broken elbow. Augusto Fernandez's availability is in question after he suffered a muscle strain. Marcos Rojo has a muscle strain of his own. Di Maria hasn't played since getting injured against Panama in the second game of the group stage.
Fortunately for Martino, his squad is as deep as it gets, and he can rotate without a problem, relative to other national teams in the world and especially in this competition. Consider that Sergio Aguero is having a hard time getting off the bench, and you start to let any iota of sympathy you might have for Argentina's injury situation waft away.
As for Chile, which will have a full day less of rest and the fallout from an odd, rain-delayed match to overcome, it lost midfielder Pablo Hernandez to a knee injury early vs. Colombia and will be sweating the fitness of another central midfielder, Marcelo Diaz, who was forced to miss the semifinal. At the top of the depth chart, Arturo Vidal will be back from suspension, fully rested and eager to contribute, and that's good news for La Roja.