EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey, (Reuters) – Lionel Messi blasted a penalty over the bar in what looks like being his last act in international football as Chile beat Argentina in a shootout to win the Copa America for the second year in a row yesterday.
Messi cut a dejected figure after losing his fourth Copa America final, and fifth major final after Argentina’s loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, and said after the match he was retiring from the international game.
“In the dressing room I thought that this is the end for me with the national team, it’s not for me,” the 29-year-old forward said.
“I tried so hard to be champion with Argentina. Now I am leaving without having managed it.”
The two sides were deadlocked 0-0 after 90 minutes and also after another half an hour of extra time in a match where both teams were reduced to 10 men in the first half.
For the second year in a row, therefore, the two teams faced off in shootout to decide who would take the biggest prize in South American soccer.
It started well for Argentina when their goalkeeper Sergio Romero got down to block Arturo Vidal’s opening penalty but Messi blasted over and Lucas Biglia’s spot kick was saved by Chilean goalkeeper Bravo Claudio.
Substitute Francisco Silva took Chile’s fifth penalty and struck it low and to the right of Romero to give his country their second successive title after winning their first on home soil last year.
“We’re going to enjoy ourselves,” Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said, before talking of his pride in his players.
“Before them today was the number one team in the world, with the best players in the world and the best player in history.”
The tension of the penalty shootout barely made up for a disappointing game with few memorable moments for a sellout 82,000 crowd.
The bulk of first half action involved referee Heber Lopes, who sent off Chile’s Marcelo Diaz on 27 minutes for a second crude challenge on Messi, before Argentina’s Marcos Rojo was given a straight red for a rough tackle on Vidal about 15 minutes later.
Three others were booked, including Messi for diving, in a first half that had as many cards as shots on goal.
The second half provided more of the same and although Chile, who have never beaten Argentina in open play in 26 previous Copa America encounters, at least managed to call Romero into action, neither side created any clear cut chances.
The 30 minutes of extra time was not much different, although Vargas came close for Chile and substitute Sergio Aguero had a header tipped over by Bravo.
Five-times World Player of the Year Messi, who surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s top scorer in the semi-final against the United States, was heavily marked and had few chances to show his brilliance.
“It’s not easy to explain,” said Argentina coach Gerardo Martino.
“Argentina should have won that game. It hurts. There are situations we can explain football-wise and other situations that can be explained, if you will, talking about our luck.”
The tournament was played in the U.S. for the first time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the inaugural competition and expanded to include six teams from North and Central America along with the 10 from South America.