Argentina showed there is more to the team than Lionel Messi after accounting for defending champions Chile 2-1 in their Copa America Centenario opener in Santa Clara on Monday.
Messi was an unused substitute in a rematch of last year’s Copa America final, with Argentina coach Gerardo Martino opting not to risk his captain at Levi’s Stadium as he nurses a back injury.
But Angel di Maria and Ever Banega stepped up in the absence of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, with the pair’s quick-fire second-half goals inspiring a fifth consecutive victory for Argentina.
Argentina controlled proceedings but it was not until the second half that the 14-time champions made their dominance count, with Di Maria opening the scoring in the 51st minute before Banega struck eight minutes later, with goalkeeper Claudio Bravo exposed at his near post on both occasions.
Jose Pedro Fuenzalida headed in a late consolation, but Chile slumped to a fifth defeat in six matches.
Messi was not the only change to Argentina’s starting XI as midfield duo Banega and Augusto Fernandez got the nod over Lucas Biglia and Erik Lamela, who both started in a 1-0 win over Honduras on May 27.
Chile were back at full strength following their final pre-Copa fixture – a late 1-0 loss to Mexico – with captain Bravo joining Eduardo Vargas, Gonzalo Jara, Mauricio Isla and Jean Beausejour in the line-up. Cristopher Toselli, Nicolas Castillo, Edson Puch, Fuenzalida and Enzo Roco made way.
Tournament organisers were left red faced again pre-game after Chile’s national anthem was disrupted by a Pitbull song.
It was another embarrassing moment for the Copa America after the title holders’ anthem was wrongly played instead of Uruguay’s before Mexico’s 3-1 victory in Arizona on Sunday.
Once the match kicked off, Argentina – who defeated Chile 2-1 in World Cup qualifying in March – dictated proceedings and came within a whisker of taking a second-minute lead as Nicolas Gaitan – Messi’s replacement – clipped the top of the crossbar with a header after latching on to an inch-perfect cross from Di Maria.
Enjoying success down the left flank, Argentina continued to look dangerous through Di Maria, with Gonzalo Higuain and Marcos Rojo going close.
But while comfortable for large portions of the half, Argentina had to withstand some nervy moments, especially on the half-hour mark, keeper Sergio Romero producing a finger-tip save to deny Alexis Sanchez after his team-mates surrendered possession outside the penalty area.
After a scoreless first half, it only took six minutes for Argentina to break the deadlock following the interval.
A telling ball from Banega picked out Di Maria, who placed the ball beyond Bravo at the near post.
Di Maria then turned provider for Banega in a similar situation eight minutes later, as his team-mate beat Bravo at the near post, albeit with some help from a deflection.
With Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp in the stands, seemingly casting his eye over Higuain, the in-demand Napoli striker almost made it 3-0 in the 67th minute but an outstretched leg from Bravo gave Chile hope.
Rojo and Lamela went close to adding a third for Argentina before Fuenzalida headed in a Fabian Orellana set-piece as Romero came rushing out to collect in the 93rd minute.
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