Image Credits: REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes.
1st major title in 28 yrs
RIO DE JANEIRO, July 10 (Reuters) – Argentina won their first major title in 28 years on Saturday and Lionel Messi finally won his first medal in a blue-and-white shirt when an Angel Di Maria goal gave them a 1-0 win over Brazil and a record-equalling 15th Copa America.
Di Maria, starting for just the second time in the Copa, justified his selection by scoring the opener midway through the first half.
Renan Lodi failed to cut out a long ball forward from Rodrigo De Paul and Di Maria lobbed the stranded Ederson with aplomb.
Brazil piled on the pressure in an exciting second half but even with five strikers on the field they could not get an equaliser against an Argentine defence protected by the outstanding Rodrigo De Paul.
“First we have to congratulate our opponents especially for the first half when they neutralised us,” said Brazilian defender Thiago Silva.
“In the second half there was no contest – only one team tried to play football, the other just wasted time as we knew they would. It’s not an excuse, we didn’t do what we had to, principally in the first half.”
Argentina’s win was a particular triumph for Barcelona striker Messi, who picked up his first ever title in a blue-and-white shirt after more than a decade of club and individual honours.
The Argentine players surrounded their captain at the final whistle. Goalkeeper Emilian Martinez celebrated what he called a Maracanazo, a remarkable win at the famous Rio stadium.
“I’m speechless,” he said. “I knew my dream would come true, and where better than the Maracanazo and giving the title to the best in the world and fulfilling his dream.”
Messi finished the tournament’s joint top goalscorer with four goals and was elected joint best player along with Neymar.
But he was quiet throughout the game at the Maracana stadium and uncharacteristically missed a golden opportunity to wrap the game up with two minutes remaining.
When the final whistle went, Argentina TV declared “Argentina Champions, Lionel Messi Champion!”
The match itself was a disappointing one, with Argentina the better side in a cagey first half that featured 21 fouls.
However, Brazil came out more aggressively in the second period and as the time ticked on they threw more people forward – and at one point having five recognised strikers on the field.
Richarlison had a goal chalked off for offside seven minutes into the second half and then forced Emiliano Martinez into a good stop two minutes later.
But as Brazil poured forward gaps, opened up and Argentina missed two clear chances to score in the dying moments of the match.
The victory was Argentina’s 15th Copa America triumph and means they draw level with Uruguay as the all-time leading winners.
“This is a very big title,” said Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni. “I hope that Argentines can enjoy it. The fans love the team unconditionally and I think they identify with this side that never drops its guard.”
Their win extended their sequence of undefeated matches to 20 under Scaloni and handed Brazil their first competitive defeat since they lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup.
Messi played game with injury – Messi
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni paid tribute to Lionel Messi on Saturday, praising his team captain and revealing he played in the Copa America win over Brazil with an injury.
“If you knew the way that he played in the Copa America you’d love him even more,” Scaloni told reporters after Argentina’s 1-0 win at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
“You can never do without a player like him, even when he is not fully fit like in this game and the previous one.”
Scaloni did not say what the injury was but he showered Messi with praise on a night Argentines took to the streets in huge numbers to celebrate their first international title in 28 years and Messi’s first victory with the national side.
Messi, winner of the FIFA Player of the Year award a record six times, has won every club and individual honour with Barcelona but he had lost all four of his previous finals with Argentina.
The 34-year old had shown his frustration with the defeats, retiring after losing the 2016 Copa America to Chile only to return to the international fold a few weeks later.
“In the end he did not throw in the towel and he succeeded,” Scaloni said.
“We are talking about the best footballer of all time and everyone knew how important it was for him to win a title with the national team.”
“I have a relationship that is different than the (usual) coach-player relationship,” Scaloni added. “It’s closer. We greet each other, we hug each other, and I am eternally grateful to him and his team mates.”