Argentina have won the Copa America after a 1-0 win over Brazil at the Maracana Stadium in Rio.
Angel Di Maria scored the only goal of the game with a fine lob in the first half, with most of the game’s best chances thereafter coming in a late flurry during the closing stages.
It took no time at all to realise that regardless of anything else at stake, this was still Argentina against Brazil and would be treated as such by all involved: the referee was berated by players, Lionel Scaloni was yelled at by the official and Fred was booked for the first foul of the game - all within three minutes.
The opening goal, when it came, was simplicity itself: a direct, diagonal pass toward Angel Di Maria, missed entirely by Renan Lodi - and then beautifully lofted over Ederson’s head and into the net from the PSG attacker.
Aside from a Casemiro effort from range and a half-connected with strike from Neymar, Brazil had offered very little in the final third by the time the half-hour mark rolled around.
The response remained muted, with the majority of the first half being a tempestuous battle for territory rather than any real kind of flowing game plan with a single dominant entity, which seemed to suit Argentina - the more organised side defensively.
Roberto Firmino replaced Fred at the interval and the Selecao came out far more aggressive and attack-minded, with Richarlison having two big chances in quick succession. He did put the ball in the net for the first, only for the offside flag to go up, but the second was saved by Emiliano Martinez after the Everton forward took a poor first touch.
Vinicius Jr soon joined the game as Brazil’s next sub, followed by Emerson and another striker in Gabriel Barbosa, while Argentina’s showed a different mentality altogether - Nicolas Tagliafico brought on as an extra defensive option on the flank.
But for all the increased attacking options, the actual approach remained blunt and predictable for the most part and Argentina defended with gusto, with either Neymar’s dribbles halted in brutal fashion when required or crosses repeatedly cleared.
Gabriel did force one smart save from Martinez, who tipped over his fierce half-volley, but the game’s best late chance fell at the other end moments later.
Lionel Messi led the counter-attacking charge and fed Rodrigo de Paul on the right - then the return pass, sent directly between the last two defenders and into the path of Messi, was sublime. Ederson was sent to ground and it looked for all the world as though Messi would finally wrap up the game himself, only to lose his footing at the vital moment and end up on the floor too.
In the end, it mattered not at all and served to wind down more precious seconds on the clock, as the resolute Albiceleste continued to cling on until they heard the most anticipated of all final whistles in almost 30 years: the one which signalled their first Copa America triumph since the Gabriel Batistuta-inspired triumph of 1993, and the end of the long wait of Messi to add major international honours to his long line of successes.
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