Copa America 2016: Can Argentina cap off a ‘Perfect Tournament’ with the Perfect Result?
Individual brilliance has been an ally of professional team play and not an adversary for this Argentine team in the tournament.
The run that the Albiceleste, as the Argentine national football team is fondly referred to due to their white and sky blue attire, have been having in the 2016 edition of the Copa America, is nothing short of sensational. From coach Gerardo Martino’s perspective, this must be the ‘perfect tournament’. From a fan’s perspective, it is stuff their dreams are made of.
An all-win record through to the finals, 18 goals in five matches with only three conceded and a superstar on overdrive - one cannot ask for more. Only a mercurial Chile side now stand between Argentina and their record 15th Copa America crown, which will be decided on Sunday evening at East Rutherford, New Jersey’s Metlife stadium in the United States, which is hosting the Centenario or 100th edition of this prestigious football tournament.
Incidentally, their present Copa campaign began against the same Chile side, which was also probably their closest fought encounter in the tournament. Argentina won by the odd goal in three and have been on the upswing ever since. They pumped in a further eight goals in their next two group matches, to top the group with ease.
Both Venezuela in the quarterfinals and the USA in the semi-finals were the recipients of four goals apiece from the Albiceleste, as the peerless Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain stitched together a lethal attacking combination, to the delights of fans and supporters.
It is unfortunate that the Copa does not garner more eyeballs or mindshare than the Euro 2016 is in India, given the vast difference in time zones. Such a lethal attack combination has been missing in the Euro 2016 edition. They have together accounted for nine goals and five assists thus far.
Messi’s form for his national team is probably the main reason behind what has made this the ‘perfect tournament’ for Argentina. He is yet to win something big with his national team and fans around the world are hoping that this Copa crown will erase the bad memories of the FIFA World Cup Final loss against Germany two years back.
They are also hoping that a win here, will finally break the jinx for Messi and set it up for greater things in the future.
It is not only the all-win record and Messi’s form though, but the way they have gone about their victories which has caught the eye after a very long time for die-hard Argentina supporters. Something they have probably not witnessed since 1986, when a certain Diego Armando Maradona, used to rule the roost.
Individual brilliance has been an ally of professional team play and not an adversary. This has meant that not only is Messi the second highest scorer of the Copa with five goals to his credit, but four Argentinians, including Gonzalo Higuain, Erik Lamela and Ezequiel Lavezzi are among the top 10 leading scorers of the tournament.
Angel Di Maria has also been on the scoresheet and he also has a good assist record to boast of before the finals. And it is not as if the going has not got tough for them at times, as it should in such high-quality tournaments.
Road to the final
The opening game against Chile was hard fought. Then in the quarterfinals against Venezuela, there was a period of immense pressure exerted by the Venezuelans on either side of the lemon break, which even helped them score a goal and reduce the deficit to one and looked good for more with several near misses and shots hitting the crossbar and uprights.
The true worth of champion teams are realised in such circumstances and Argentina sailed through these moments with elan.
When it rains, it pours, as they say. If having your best player leading from the front, your key forwards in sublime form and a solid defence was not enough for coach Martino, as many as five of the 18 goals scored by Argentina in Copa 2016 were scored by his players who were sent in as substitutes. This is also the highest by any team in the tournament. It does include a Lionel Messi hat-trick coming off the bench, but you still need to know when to unleash the tiger.
Argentina have come a long way from their World Cup campaign if their performance in the Copa is anything to go by. In the World Cup, though they did finish runners-up, fans were not entirely satisfied. Messi was not leading the pack as per their expectations and Argentina had struggled to even put it across the likes of Iran. The Copa though has made up for all that disappointment.
Or has it? The tournament’s leading goal scorer, Eduardo Vargas (six goals) and his Chile side might be having other ideas in the final. In any case, Chile’s record over the past couple of years suggests that they can certainly not be taken lightly.
The mood among the fans back home, yearning for a tournament victory (their last Copa win was 13 years back) for long, was aptly summed up by Maradona himself when he stated in his inimitable style, “Win or don’t return.”