Copa America Centenario - IMBOLDN
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The Copa America Centenario is reaching its conclusion, and the stage has been set for the ultimate south American showdown – a dream final for all offensive football enthusiasts, a rematch of last year’s final, and the best chance for Lionel Messi’s Argentina to take their revenge.

The two teams have showed us they deserve to battle it out. After witnessing the group stage eliminations of Uruguay, who have the most Copa America wins, and Jogo Bonito pioneers Brazil, who seem to be on an unprecedented downward spiral of mediocrity, South American soccer fans braced themselves for the second stage of the Copa.

The quarter finals debuted with hosts USA facing Ecuador, in a game littered with yellow and red cards. An exhilarated Seattle crowd lifted Dempsey and his men to lead USA to a 2 to 1 victory. The next game saw Argentina facing Venezuela, with a reinvigorated Lionel Messi, who entered the pitch during the second half to plant two goals, in addition to assisting Gonzalo Higuain and Erik Lamela for two more. The showdown between Colombia and Peru remained goalless until the penalty shootout, which saw James Rodriguez’s squad defeat the Andean nation, by 4 goals to 2.

Current Copa champions, Chile, who started the tournament with two sluggish performances, and having won only one of their 5 games under new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, morphed into a ravenous goal-scoring machine for their quarter-final encounter with Mexico. In the lead up to the game, both teams were showcasing promising momentum, with Mexico having a stronger record against Chile, having beaten them in a pre-tournament friendly game. But that Saturday evening, it was la Roja who came together, pushed forward from the very moment the whistle blew, and tore apart the Mexican side in a relentless display of offensive football, resulting in darkest day in Mexican football history. Mexico was given little to no chance to develop their offense. Each of their attacks were thwarted by a tightly-knit Chilean defense before they could ever turn into anything dangerous. From there, Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez took turns in playing the Mexican defense like a hot knife cutting through butter. In the end, Edson Puch joined his two teammates to make the score 7 goals to zero. Following the game, Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio offered his sincerest apologies for the defeat, and the hashtag #labodaroja emerged, a nod to a Game of Thrones episode which was as bloody as the Mexican defeat.

As the tournament reached its two semi-finals, it was clear that the four teams were running on all cylinders. USA were appearing in the furthest stages they had ever reached in any international tournament, and Jurgen Klimsmann’s side showed no inhibitions towards a dazzling Argentine squad. But all the good will in the world could not prevent the US from succumbing to the South American attacks. Dempsey’s squad conceded a 4 – 0 defeat, with Messi planting a textbook free kick of surgical precision, beating Gabriel Batistuta’s record, and becoming the highest goal scorer for the Argentine national team, with 55 goals. The tournament’s host nation have nothing to be ashamed of, as they offered a great show throughout the event, and remain a viable contender in the world stage.

The second semi-final saw two opposing Argentine coaches leading Colombia and Chile, respectively. Jose Pekerman, who led his own county’s team in the 2006 world cup, faced Juan Antonio Pizzi, a disciple of the Chile-wide adored Marcelo Bielsa. Pekerman, now leading Colombia in this encounter, has always been a traditionalist, organizing his attack around a supporting number 10, who feeds the attackers. Pizzi has followed the successes of Marcelo Bielso, and then Jorge Sampaoli, to propose an adaptable and offensive football. At Chicago’s Soldier Field, the two teams faced an additional unexpected opponent: terribly bad weather. After an exciting first half, the entire stadium had to wait 2 and a half hours for a violent rainstorm to subside. But Colombia’s fate had been sealed a mere fifteen minutes into the game. Despite absences from playmaker Arturo Vidal, due to a second yellow card, Chile scored two goals, by Aranguiz and Fuenzalida, and the result remained the same after the storm-induced delay.

Many have wondered whether this oddly timed Copa America Centenario holds the same value as the other Copas, and the South American Football Confederation has confirmed that yes. Colombia will face USA in the match for third place, but all eyes are on Argentina for the final game of this unique tournament.

The Albiceleste have a lot at stake, and they truly want their revenge from last year. They possess an abundance of talent, but they have not won any major international tournament in over 25 years. During the Copa, Diego Maradona told Pele that Messi is “a really good person, but he has no personality, he lacks the character to be a leader”. In view of the final, he added: “We (Argentina) will certainly win on Sunday, and if we don’t win, they shouldn’t come back”. Messi has let his performance speak for itself, with a hat trick against Panama, and a record shattering free kick against the US, but his Instagram jibe against the Argentina Football Association during a flight delay are testament to tension within the Albiceleste ranks.

“La Roja” wants to repeat last year’s victory. Their football is offensive, and seductive. They started out slow, actually losing against Argentina in their opening game, but they’ve increased their momentum, and their offensive firepower has shown that they’re quite simply one of the best teams in the world. Playmaker Arturo Vidal will be back in the squad, and he’ll be sure to feed Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas the fodder to beat Argentina.

The bets favor Argentina, who demonstrated that they can convince without Messi on as a starter. The Barcelona star is eager to prove to naysayers that his historic performances with the club can translate to championship wins for Argentina. Chile’s results show promise, and both teams are positioned to become champions, in an offensive showdown that will light up the Metlife Stadium on Sunday night. Yours truly will be in East Rutherford, to see who will emerge victorious, Messi’s Argentina, or “La Marea Roja”.