In incredibly similar fashion to the 2015 Copa America Final, Chile defeated Argentina on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw to claim their second consecutive and second overall Copa America title. The winning penalty was scored by Francisco Silva of Liga MX club Chiapas, and denied Lionel Messi and Argentina their first major international title since winning the 1993 Copa America.
The first half of the match was cagey and feisty with each side finding it difficult to break down the opposing defense. Angel Di Maria’s return from injury failed to inspire the Argentinian attack, while Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez struggled to create space for both himself and his Chilean teammates.
Gonzalo Higuain again disappointed in the attack for Argentina, spurning one of the game’s best chances in the first half when his chip over Claudio Bravo drifted wide of net. This continued Higuain’s streak of poor performances in major tournament finals, as he also missed golden chances to score in the 2015 Copa America Final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final against Germany.
The story of the opening 45 minutes was Brazilian referee Heber Lopes, who made several questionable decisions that altered the course of the final. After first showing Chile’s Marcelo Diaz a yellow card in the 16th minute for an unsporting foul on Messi, Lopes then sent off Diaz just 12 minutes later for another foul on the Barcelona forward.
While Diaz’s first yellow was unquestionably deserved, the Celta de Vigo midfielder appeared to just stand his ground in the second incident, with Messi able to coerce Lopes into the sending off.
Lopes’ quick-trigger pocketbook reappeared in the 37th minute, when Javier Mascherano and Arturo Vidal were each booked for a coming together in the Chilean half of the field. Three minutes later, Messi was on the receiving end of a yellow card from Lopes, after the Brazilian official judged that Messi had gone down in the penalty box too easily, although replays showed that contact had been made with Messi’s left leg.
Argentina’s man advantage was short-lived, as Marcos Rojo of Manchester United was shown a straight red card just before halftime. The decision from Lopes appeared a harsh one, with Rojo winning the ball as he slid through the back of Vidal. The action of Vidal’s foot appearing to get caught in the turf made the challenge appear far worse than it actually was, but despite the protestations of La Albiceleste, the match would feature 10 v. 10 soccer from that point on.
The halftime break came at a convenient time for both sets of players and Lopes himself, as it gave everyone a chance to catch their breaths after a first half that featured very few scoring chances.
Despite an early second half booking to Chile’s Jean Beausejour, the match settled down in terms of intensity with both sides finding more space in the attack with two less players on the field.
Matias Kranevitter came on for Di Maria just before the hour mark in a surprise substitution by Argentina manager Gerardo Martino, as the PSG player ended up playing for less than half of the match’s total duration.
As the end of regulation time neared, each side was presented an opportunity to win the match.
In the 80th minute, tournament leading scorer Eduardo Vargas was able to slide in behind the Argentinian defense and fire a shot on the goal of Sergio Romero, but the Manchester United goalkeeper was easily able to catch the attempt on net.
Messi provided Argentina with a final opportunity to win in stoppage time, as he dribbled up the heart of the Chilean defense before firing wide of Bravo’s goal in the final action of normal time.
Per the new Copa America Centenario rules, each team was awarded an extra substitution because the match entered extra time, meaning that each side could make up to four chnages. However, neither side elected to use the extra substitution, with Argentina replacing Higuain with Sergio Aguero and Chile bringing on Edson Puch for Jose Fuenzalida in the latter stages of the second half.
Vargas tried again to get past Romero in the 99th minute, but Romero was able to catch his headed attempt in Chile’s best chance of the first period of extra time. Just a minute later the substitute Aguero had Argentina’s best chance of extra time to go in front through a header of his own.
However Bravo, who took home the tournament’s Golden Glove Award, was somehow able to contort his body to tip Aguero’s looping header onto the crossbar and out for a corner, preserving the 0-0 draw.
No chances emerged for either side to score in the second period of extra time, although several surprising substitutions were made prior to a penalty shootout. Sanchez and Vargas, Chile’s most threatening players in the match, were both removed by manager Juan Antonio Pizzi, with Silva and Nicolas Castillo replacing them.
Martino countered by making one change before the shootout, as Erik Lamela of Tottenham replaced Ever Banega.
The penalty shootout got off to a shocking start when Vidal and Messi each missed to begin the deciding spot kicks. Vidal’s lazy penalty never reached the intended bottom right corner, as Romero dove low to save the tame effort.
Messi meanwhile blasted his penalty into orbit, sailing it three feet over the crossbar in a moment that stunned the more than 82,000 spectators on hand at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
The substitute Castillo and Messi’s Barcelona teammate Mascherano each scored in the second round of penalties though to tie the shootout at one.
Aranguiz and Aguero each chose the bottom right corner as their desired locations in the third round of penalties, with the count at 2-2 heading into round four.
While Beausejour successfully found the left hand corner with his fourth round penalty, Lazio’s Lucas Biglia was not as fortunate for Argentina. Bravo guessed correctly and parried aside the midfielder’s attempt, bringing Chile one penalty away from another Copa America crown.
While Sanchez had been the player to score the decisive penalty last year in Santiago, it was ironically his substitute Silva who had the honors this time, smashing into the bottom left corner as Romero dove the wrong way to give Chile a 4-2 shootout win.
The pain etched on Messi’s face in the aftermath of the match indicated the suffering experienced by Argentina, who have now failed to score in their last four major international tournament finals, even though three of those finals went to extra time.
Further drama was added to Argentina’s loss following the match, when Messi and several other star players such as Di Maria and Aguero announced that they were prepared to retire from international soccer following the defeat. This comes during a time of chaos for the Argentinian Football Federation, with FIFA taking over the federation last week after widespread allegations of bribery.
Conversely, it was a scene of unbridled joy for Chile after the match, with Vargas awarded the Golden Boot Award and Sanchez named the player of the tournament following their win.
The victory gives Chile their second Copa America title, after waiting 99 years to win their first one just last year.