The Copa America final could prove to be the game of the tournament as pre-tournament favourites Argentina face up against dynamic hosts Chile in Santiago on Saturday night.
Roads to the final
Chile strolled through the group stages of the tournament with comfortable wins against Ecuador and Bolivia and a thrilling six-goal draw with Mexico.
A late goal from Mauricio Isla was enough to see off Uruguay in the quarter-finals before his fellow former QPR man Eduardo Vargas notched a brace to seal progression past surprise package Peru in the semi-final.
The Argentines made harder work of things in Group B, throwing away a two-goal lead to draw their opening match with Paraguay before labouring to one-nil wins against invited minnows Jamaica and dark horses Uruguay.
It took a dramatic penalty shoot-out to take them past Colombia after a goalless draw with Colombia, but Tata Martino’s men hit top gear in the semi-finals, banishing the memory of their group stage goalscoring struggles to pummel Paraguay 6-1.
Chile may well choose to field an unchanged side from that which beat Peru in the semis, with the return of Gonzalo Jara the only likely change after the Mainz defender missed the last game.
A similar story could be heard in the Argentina camp, with the World Cup finalists only having any reason to change their starting eleven if missing defender Ezequiel Garay returns from the illness which left him out of the squad for the demolition of Paraguay.
Both sides are unbeaten in competitive football since their respective World Cup exits in Brazil last year, but it is Argentina who come into this game with the superior head-to-head record.
Chile have just two wins from the last 14 encounters between the two, the last of which came in the same stadium as this final. Then, in a qualifying match for the World Cup, goals from Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain were sufficient for Argentina to claim a narrow 2-1 win.
If these sides’ form over the course of the tournament is anything to go by, this is one match which could be beyond prediction. The best football of the tournament has come from the visitors, but they have struggled against far worse sides than Jorge Sampaoli’s.
Chile are on the hunt for their first major international trophy, while Argentina are looking for the win which would vindicate their golden generation. They stumbled at the final hurdle in Rio last year, with Messi and Higuain both passing up golden chances to score – if the former, along with Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria and one of the players of the tournament Javier Pastore bring their A-game, they should be able to overcome the hosts.
However, home advantage can prove a powerful ally in a cup final, and Chile’s high-energy approach could prove too much for any nervous Argentinians wilting in what is sure to be a heavily partisan atmosphere. In these terms, the pressure goes both ways – however, if Chile are to win, the fans will surely play an important role in victory.
Date and time
Saturday 4th July, 21:00PM UK time.
The Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos in the capital city of Santiago is the largest stadium to have been used in the tournament with a capacity of close to 49,000. Originally opened in 1938, the stadium underwent a complete modernisation in 2009/10 with President Michelle Bachelet having the aim of making it the most modern sporting arena in South America.
Architecturally based on Berlin’s Olympiastadion, the stadium has had an equally turbulent history, having been used as a prison camp during the 1973 coup d’état – over 40,000 people spent time in the stadium during the Junta regime.