Friday, July 3, 2015

Chile vs Argentina – Copa América final

On Saturday afternoon (evening for us Europeans), a new Copa América champion will be crowned. The hosts Chile will attempt to win their first title against Argentina, who themselves reach for a record 15th win to go level with Uruguay at the top.

Around a game, a lot of hate is surfacing in both countries already. This has many historic reasons dating back as early as the war for independence against the Spanish colonial power. The border between the countries is the third longest in the world, with a total of 5150km. In past times, this led to a lot of conflicts as well, mainly for territorial reasons, even a cold war in the 1970s. Today, there is still a lot of pride and patriotism anchored in the populations.

The football side of the conflict could not be much more different. In the last 40 years, Chile has only won one of 27 games against Argentina. In 2008, during the World Cup qualifiers, La Roja was celebrating a 1-0 victory at the exact same venue that will host the Copa final this Saturday: Santiago.


Fabián Orellana scores the only goal as Chile beat their neighbors 1-0 in 2008.

7 years later, it will be another uphill battle for the Chileans. Argentina slowly but surely got rolling, which ended in a 6-1 win in the semifinal against a pitiful Paraguay. And even though Lionel Messi was kept from scoring in this tournament for the most part, he can not be kept from contributing in other ways, assisting three times in that match.


Leo Messi in the semifinal battle against Paraguay.

But Chile is another - a stronger - opponent than Paraguay. Even though they did not convince a whole lot since the group stages, profiting from early red cards for an opponent in both the quarter- and the semifinal, they will be a force to be reckoned with. When you look at the team’s previous performances, you wonder whether they would not need a bit better usage of goal scoring opportunities. Jorge Valdivia became the silent star behind those that are getting all the media attention, be it Alexis Sanchez or Eduardo Vargas. Because Gonzalo Jara still misses the final thanks to his suspension from the Uruguay game, it will be between Albornoz and Mena to replace him. Both played 45 minutes in the semifinal.

I am expecting Chile to be the team with more possession, especially early on in the game. Their strength is their offense and they will have to use it to their advantage. The big BUT is if they give Argentina too much space to counter, they will pay for it. Messi, Agüero and di Maria will rip them apart. So the recipe will be controlled offense.

Argentina on the other hand know this situation. Only last year they were in the World Cup final, just this time around they are the favorites. But honestly, will that bother a team full of quality players? I do not think so. Expect them to sit back a little and look for holes in the Chilean defense.

Prediction: If Chile get an early goal, it will be their final with all the enthusiasm around the stadium. Else, the experience of Argentina will be decisive. I’ll go with Argentina winning 1-0.

Here are the likely lineups:

Chile: Bravo – Isla, Medel, Albornoz, Rojas – Diaz, Vidal, Aranguiz – Valdivia – Sanchez, Vargas.

Argentina: Romero – Zabaleta, Demichelis, Otamendi, Rojo – Biglia, Mascherano – Pastore – Messi, Agüero, di Maria.

Referee: Wilmar Roldan from Colombia (14 yellow cards in 2 games).


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