In a Copa America which has had its fair share of star quality as well as a couple of major controversies, the two most consistent sides contest the final on Saturday evening, with Chile looking to win the competition for the first time ever on home turf facing an Argentina team that will be desperate to end its 22-year wait for a major trophy.
Even with home advantage, Chile have more than confirmed their status as one of the emerging forces of international football by making a relatively serene passage to the final, sailing through Group A before knocking out defending champions Uruguay in a tumultuous encounter, and then Eduardo Vargas producing two moments of magic to see off Peru – who have done brilliantly to achieve third place – in the last four.
Vargas will be key to his side’s hopes here, but their main attacking threat will always come from Alexis Sanchez thanks to his relentless energy and unpredictability. However, the most important area for Chile – on what is arguably the biggest day in their footballing history – is the defence, where Gary Medel and veteran Jose Rojas will surely need shielding from the array of attacking talent that La Albiceleste possess. Holding midfielder Charles Aranguiz must ensure those behind him are not left exposed.
So far, Gerardo Martino has done a fine job in leading Argentina to the final, but victory is the only expectation for a team that still has regrets over losing out at last year’s World Cup and indeed in numerous other finals in the last decade. In the semi-finals they certainly did seem unstoppable, knocking six past a previously unflappable Paraguay in a tremendous attacking performance, more than making up for their mini capitulation against the same opponents in the opening round of group matches.
The sensational aspect of that win was that Lionel Messi did not score, though inevitably he was an influential presence. Angel Di Maria has used this tournament as a means of rebuilding his confidence and helped himself to two, while Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Pastore were among those who added their names to the score-sheet, a fact that only serves to highlight the sheer number of exceptional options that Martino has at his disposal.
Compare the Argentinian frontline and the Chilean back four, and it seems that little can be done to prevent the 13-time South American champions from overpowering their opponents, but the industry and desire of Chile, not to mention the partisan crowd and the pressure that comes with a major final should make it a close game which may be decided beyond the regular 90 minutes.
One thing should be guaranteed is entertainment, a component that has been delivered with ample regularity over the last three weeks, and whichever side claims victory will be truly deserving of their triumph. It would be the making of Chile should they do so, while for Argentina it could bring about a new era, where they become the side top of world football and there to be shot at.