3rd time in last three years to be charm for Argentina?
By The Rex Factor
Argentina has not won a major international soccer title with its senior side since the 1993 Copa America crown in Ecuador. The Argentines have gotten increasingly closer in the last two summers, and have been the favorite since the get-go in this one-off Copa America Centenario in the United States.
The 2014 World Cup loss to Germany in Brazil came after 120 minutes, with neither team scoring in the first 90 before the Germans got a breakthrough less than 10 minutes from penalty kicks.
The loss in the Copa America final last year – less than a calendar year ago – came in Santiago to the host Chileans in a raucous environment. It came after two hours of scoreless soccer before the Chileans won the penalty shootout, 4-1.
Argentina got its revenge on Chile in the first game of the Copa Centenario, getting goals from Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega eight minutes apart early in the second half before a late Jose Pedro Fuenzalida goal at the death kept the Chileans from getting blanked. Still, the 2-1 win set Argentina on its way to be Group D winners and eventually set up a quarterfinal meeting with Venezuela (4-1 win) and a semifinal meeting with the host USA (4-0 win).
The Chileans were leaky in group stage games, as captain and goaltender Claudio Bravo let in five goals (most of which he had to shoulder considerable blame) but navigated their way out of Group D to thrash Mexico in the quarterfinals, 7-0. Bravo, a club teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona, then pitched another shutout in his best performance of the event as the Chileans blanked Colombia. That match was held in stormy Chicago on Wednesday and two quick goals were all the winners got (and needed) to advance to this rematch Sunday night at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J. Kickoff is set for 8 Eastern, with Fox Sports 1 providing the English broadcast in the US, while Univision has the Spanish-speaking feed.
Argentine No. 10 Lionel Messi turned 29 on Friday, and arguably the greatest player on the planet has done everything but guide his national team to a senior championship. His vaunted career for Barcelona has included 531 games, 453 goals, 28 trophies and four Ballon d’Or awards as FIFA World Player of the Year.
For Messi’s national side, however, the two trophies he’s lifted were an under-20 World Cup crown in 2005 and the Olympic Gold in 2008. Messi had an outstanding screamer of a free kick goal over the USA earlier in the week for his 55th goal wearing the “Albiceleste” jersey; that broke the prior record of 54 by legendary Gabriel Bautista.
Chile have been rapidly improving, and “La Marea Roja” have been surging in the last few games, scoring 15 goals in winning four straight. They scored nine goals in the first 100 minutes of knockout stage play. This is certainly a golden era for Chilean soccer, as they ranked as low as 84th in the world FIFA rankings in 2002. A win on Sunday would put this side into any discussion for South American team of the decade to this point when you consider that they had not won a World Cup game since 1962 yet got out of group play in both 2010 and 2014.
Adding pressure to the Argentines was none other than Diego Maradona. On the 30th anniversary of his “Hand of God” World Cup goal against England earlier this week, Maradona said to the team in an interview that “Of course I think we will win. But if you don’t win, don’t come back.”