• Ruaraidh Britton

Argentina’s long trophy wait ends as Di Maria’s strike makes history

Angel Di Maria’s first-half strike ended a 28-year-old wait for a trophy as Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 to win Copa America for the first time since 1993. His cheeky lob over Manchester City’s Ederson was the moment of luck they needed, with the few Argentina fans making themselves heard after such a sumptuous goal. Their win not only takes them to a record-equalling 15 titles, but it also sees Lionel Messi finally lift silverware with his country in what was an emotional moment for the captain.

The scene at full-time epitomised everything you need to know about what this meant to Messi. Before he could get back to his feet, he sank straight back to his knees and sobbed tears of joy, tears of relief, and tears of a nation craving to see him succeed. There had been so many near misses, and so much criticism over whether the skipper would ever be deemed a success with Argentina, particularly after losing the 2014 World Cup final to Germany. But finally, at 34, we got to see that smile fans across the globe have come to adore, as he was thrown into the air by his teammates. It speaks volumes at how they swarmed him after the full-time whistle, because the player of the tournament has been everything this team needed, and Nicolás Otamendi hugging him also in tears as tight as he could summed up just how thankful they were for his outstanding tournament performances.

The goal came 22 minutes into the fixture, which Argentina hadn’t looked too troubled in so far, with a terrible touch from the Renan Lodi sending man of the match Di Maria through, with his touch of class to lob the keeper creating a goal well worthy of a final. Casemiro’s face of bewilderment and frustration summed up how Brazil felt, with the Di Maria’s effort being such a poor mistake and a soft goal to concede, but time was on their side for them to try and fight their way back into the game.

Casemiro would fire back at the other end, but Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez looked more than comfortable gathering the ball. The goalkeeper of the tournament has had a remarkable two years with cup glory at Arsenal and then his move to the West Midlands, and this tournament has seen the Argentine put in an outstanding shift on every occasion. Messi came close to doubling their lead, but his shot was fired wide of the post after a heavy nudge from Brazil left him perplexed at the referee’s decision not to award a free- kick.

The second-half saw Richarlison waste a glorious chance to bring the teams level, by blasting a strike straight at the solid Martinez who was hardly troubled by the Everton forward. Brazil kept pushing for an equaliser, but the Argentine defence held its own and managed to frustrate Neymar and Paquetá, with Gabriel Barbosa’s close range effort blocked by Marcos Acuña. Gabi’s second effort was much better, but again Martinez got a strong hand to the ball to clear it over the bar as the hands on the Brazilian heads showed their angst at how they were being stopped by Villa’s keeper every single time.

Messi had a glorious chance to put the game to bed after the ball through to him sliced Brazil’s back four in two, but one too many touches from the Barcelona striker cost him the chance to tuck the ball home; he can be forgiven after the way he has played this tournament, but the look on his face told you exactly how well he knew he had blown the chance to go 2-0 ahead. Di Maria’s effort was collected well by Ederson, but time was not on Brazil’s side, and their late efforts did nothing to swing the game in their favour.

If Messi wasn’t already a hero in the eyes of Argentina fans, he certainly will be now after finally achieving glory with his country. It took a long time to get there, with Messi now coming towards the end of his career, but after their victory in Copa America, you feel Qatar has to be in his sights now for the final roll of the dice. They are the in-form side in South America, and they are more than capable of carrying this side through to the 2022 World Cup. It wasn’t a tournament that put the world on notice, but it was a reminder just how good this side can be, and how good Messi still is. There is more to come of this group, but now it’s all roads to Qatar.


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