New year, new Copa, new continent – same final two in Argentina and Chile.
Just like they did in Santiago last year, Argentina will look to end their trophy drought at the expense of Chile, this time in the United States as the special edition Copa America Centenario comes to an end.
Chile may have swapped Jorge Sampaoli for Juan Antonio Pizzi in the dugout, but their mission – and their means – remain largely the same.
Aggressive, high-pressure football coupled with a disciplined defence have made Chile steely at the back and brutal in attack – as evidenced in their 7-0 drubbing of Mexico in the quarter-finals.
The two have already met at the Copa America Centenario, when a Messi-less Argentina were inspired by Angel Di Maria to a 2-1 win in their opening game.
Di Maria looks certain to miss the final after suffering a recurrence of the adductor injury he picked up in Argentina’s second game, but Messi certainly will not.
Despite missing the first game and playing the second and third off the bench, the Barcelona maestro is the competition’s second-top scorer with five goals – which has proven enough to see him overtake Gabriel Batistuta’s record for most goals for Argentina.
He trails Eduardo Vargas, whose four-goal haul in the 7-0 drubbing of Mexico helped him to six for the tournament.
Argentina enter the final as favourites, despite Chile going in as champions, but Messi knows a spine that features Barcelona team-mate Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez is no opposition to be taken lightly.
“We know Chile, it is a very complete selection and therefore is again in the final,” the Argentina number 10 said.
“We must forget about the end [and] that we could not win and think that we have a new opportunity.”
Not that Argentina are short on quality.
The loss of Di Maria is a blow, while Nicolas Gaitan remains a doubt with Ezequiel Lavezzi’s horror fall in the semi-final win against USA enough to rule him out, ensuring some selection issues for Gerardo Martino.
Despite that, he can still call on the services of Gonzalo Higuain, who has four goals for the tournament, and Erik Lamela.
Augusto Fernandez, Javier Mascherano and Ever Banega have been the preferred midfield three for Martino this tournament and they coped admirably with the energy and pressure from Chile in the first game.
But Pizzi is not concerned with the quality Argentina possess, insisting his team’s strengths are enough to win the final on their own merit.
“We arrived [for the final] in very good shape. We are strong,” Pizzi told reporters.
“While we have some casualties, most are able and they must prepare for the game.
“They must respect the opponent, but they must compete and win.”