Copa America Centenario: Argentina's road to the Final
Argentina are optimistic of lifting the Copa America. Source: Visionnoventa

La Albiceleste finds themselves in another final once again as they are hungrier than ever to finally end the 23 year curse of not winning a major tournament. Argentina’s great form in the Copa America Centenario has been thanks to the overall effort of the team, including a Lionel Messi at his best internationally. Argentina has been criticized for their defense in the past years but, now the back four with Marcos Rojo, Ramiro Funes Mori, Nicolas Otamendi, and Gabriel Mercado looks to be answering well. 

Argentina will verse Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario at Metlife Stadium this Sunday, a rematch of last years edition of the Copa America where Chile won the title for the first time in their history. 

Solid Group Stage Performances

Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side opened the tournament in Santa Clara against Chile with one of the most anticipated group stage matches of the tournament. Despite not having Messi in the lineup for the game, Argentina looked strong against the reigning champions. Martino chose Nicolas Gaitan to be the man to replace Messi. The future Atletico Madrid player gave a strong performance against Chile giving Martino an idea of what Gaitan might offer in the future. It was Angel Di Maria’s night as his goal and assist helped Argentina get the three points. The 2-1 win over Chile was one of the best games of the group stages as the game offered much non-stop action throughout the 90 minutes. 

The second game of the group stage was in Chicago in an encounter against Panama who was also coming off a victory against Bolivia. The big news coming into the match was that Lionel Messi was ready to play, but Martino decided to leave him on the bench for the start. With Otamendi’s early goal it seemed like it was going to be an easy night for Argentina but that wasn’t the case early on as Panama created offensive chances early on. A red card for Panama in the first half affected them greatly as Argentina began to control the game. 

Messi celebrates with his teammates against Panama. Source:Vavel Photographer: Dean Reid
Messi celebrates with his teammates against Panama. Source:Vavel Photographer: Dean Reid

Angel Di Maria’s injuries in big tournaments continue as he picked up an adductor injury right before halftime. Angel Di Maria missed the final stages of the World Cup in Brazil and got injured in the first half of last years Copa America Final.

The captain for Argentina, Lionel Messi saw his first action in the Copa America when he came on in the second half for Agusto Fernandez. Messi would then score three goals in the span of 20 minutes giving the crowd of Soldier Field an amazing performance. 

La Albiceleste would close their group stage phase in Seattle against Bolivia. With Argentina already through to the next round, Martino decided to rest Messi and include Ezequiel “Pocho” Lavezzi. It was an easy match for Argentina and an opportunity for new faces to contribute on the scoring streak as Erik Lamela, Victor Cuesta, and Ezequiel Lavezzi scored against the already eliminated Bolivia. 

Run of Form into the Knockout Phase

Messi and Co. traveled to the east coast to Foxborough, Massachusetts where they played “La Vinotinto” in the quarterfinals. It was the first game Messi started in the tournament. Gonzalo Higuain’s goal drought finally ended as he opened the scoring in the eighth minute. It was a bad night for Venezuela as poor errors led to Argentina capitalizing them in goals. Higuain would then score another goal in the 28th minute. It’s been a talking point of whether Higuain or Sergio Aguero would start but, Martino has been keen of starting Higuain. 

Messi continued to show his brilliance after his assist on Higuain’s first goal and the goal he scored in the 60th minute. Messi would then record another assist on Lamela’s goal giving Argentina the 4-1 win. Sergio “Chiquito” Romero has been big for Argentina when having to make big saves as he has proven he is one the best goalkeepers in South America. Lucas Biglia who has been important for Argentina in the last couple years saw his first action in the tournament after coming off a muscle tear injury.

Argentina traveled to Houston, Texas to face the host country, the United States. The U.S. was coming into the match without three key players, Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood, and Alejandro Bedoya due to suspension. On the other hand, Argentina was again without the injured Di Maria and the suspended Nicolas Gaitan. 

Ezequiel Lavezzi started the match and scored early in the game on a header against Brad Guzan. Lionel Messi would then score one of the candidates for goal of the tournament as Messi’s free kick beat Guzan on his near post. Higuain had another multi-goal goal game scoring two goals and moving them calmly to the finals. 

Messi scored one of the best goals of the tournament - USA. Source: Eurosport
Messi scored one of the best goals of the tournament - USA. Source: Eurosport

The Last Step

Argentina comes to the Finals confident that they will finally end the 23 year curse of not lifting a trophy and end the disputes of Messi not winning anything with his country. Argentina has been the only team throughout the tournament that has won all their games. Sergio Romero comes into the tournament with only allowing two goals with the help also from Argentina’s back four. 

Javier Mascherano’s leadership will most likely be noted as he is a key piece to this Argentinian side. Argentina’s defense hasn’t been tested a whole lot in the recent games but, it will certainly be up to the task to stop Eduardo Vargas, Alexis Sanchez, and Jose Fuenzalida. Argentina are optimistic about lifting the trophy for the first time since the 1993 Copa America as Lionel Messi is in top form coming into this upcoming final.