RIO DE JANEIRO: Superstar Lionel Messi won his first trophy with his national team as Angel Di Maria’s goal gave Argentina a 1-0 win over hosts Brazil in Saturday’s Copa America final.
The victory at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium ended Argentina’s 28 years of waiting for a major trophy, and also ended Brazil’s unbeaten home run for more than 2,500 days.
Argentina had last tasted success in a major tournament in 1993, when Gabriel Batistuta’s great brace gave them a 2-1 victory over Mexico in the Copa final in Ecuador.
It was the first time in six home editions that Brazil failed to lift the trophy.
And as 34-year-old Messi’s odyssey has come to an end, Brazilian Neymar, five years his junior, is still without a major international title after losing Selecao’s home win two years ago through injury.
Argentina overcame a brutal and irritable affair thanks to Di Maria’s goal in the 22nd minute.
The 33-year-old winger encountered a lavish through ball from Rodrigo De Paul to lob Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson with a shot for the first time.
Messi could have taken home the win with two minutes left, but slipped when clean with only Ederson to beat.
In a frenzied start, burly Argentine henchman Nicolas Otamendi took his first foul as Brazilian midfielder Fred received his first yellow card after just three minutes for a studded thrust on Gonzalo Montiel.
Brazil remained unchanged from their semi-final victory over Peru, while Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni made five changes, most notably by including Di Maria, who made an energetic and decisive entry from the bench against Colombia last time.
The final was the first match of the tournament, which was originally supposed to take place last year, to allow fans to take seats at 7,800, one-tenth the capacity of the Maracana, after authorities partially lifted restrictions on the pandemic.
The first clear chance came in the 13th minute when Richarlison headed a long throw from Marquinhos on Neymar’s trajectory, but the Brazilian star was knocked out by a pair of defenders.
The brutal nature of the early matches could be seen on the players’ kits, with Neymar sporting ripped shorts and Lucas Paqueta left with a hole in his sock following Otamendi’s surgery.
Argentina play with aggression and commitment, but they do not lack quality with Di Maria tormenting Brazilian left-back Renan Lodi, who probably should have carved out De Paul’s pass for the winger.
Di Maria blocked a 20-yard shot while Messi shot just wide after a 40-yard run.
Brazil struggled to create something noteworthy and even when they received a free kick from the shooting range, Neymar failed to beat the wall.
When the hosts finally maintained some pressure towards halftime, Everton’s deflected shot went to goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Brazil manager Tite was quick to act, leading Roberto Firmino forward for defensive midfielder Fred at half-time.
Richarlison had the ball in the net shortly after, but was flagged for offside.
And moments later Neymar charged Richarlison but Martinez saved his shot at the near post.
He descended more and more into an irritable and irritable relationship with a not very fluid game of fouls and a plethora of theatricality and petulant squabbles.
He was playing Argentina’s game as he tried to slow down time and keep his slim lead.
Brazil managed to ramp up the pressure again at the end of the half, but didn’t have a deadly touch against some cold-blooded defenders – Montiel even finished the match with his blood-soaked white sock.
When Brazil substitute Gabriel Barbosa fired a volley on goal, Martinez was equal.
Messi slipped awkwardly late with a chance to clinch victory, but that mattered little as moments later his teammates were tossing him into the air to celebrate their victory.AFP