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Argentina advances to Copa Quarters on late Martinez goal

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Jun 25, 2024; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Argentina forward Lautaro Martinez (22) celebrates his goal with teammates during the second half against Chile at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The CONMEBOL Federation’s Copa América is a tournament with a rich history that predates the World Cup. The first Campeonato Sudamericano de Football (South American Football Championship) was held in Argentina in 1916 to celebrate the centennial of Argentinian Independence, with Uruguay winning the four team round robin. Argentina and Uruguay are tied for the most championships in the tournament’s history with 15 titles each and Brazil has nine titles. Argentina is of course the defending Copa champion from the last tournament in 2021 and defending World Cup champion from 2022, and has this guy Lionel Messi who a few folks in the States might have heard about by now. The biggest game in the recent history of this storied tournament took place in the 2016 “Centenario” edition…a tournament so big it was held outside South America for the first time in the United States. The championship match of the Centenario tournament featured Chile and Argentina, neighbors and hated CONMEBOL rivals facing off at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The rivals played to an epic 0-0 draw before Chile triumphed 4-2 on penalties for their second straight Copa title over their rivals which added fuel to the “Messi can’t win the big one” narrative which has since been demolished like the bottom table La Liga teams Messi tortured for years. This year’s tournament comes back to the States with Messi and Argentina as the presumptive favorites and their hated rival Chile standing in the way in the second Group A match at the same stadium as the epic 2016 final. Chile fought hard for 88 minutes and goalie Claudio Bravo practically stood on his head to keep Chile in the game, saving eight shots for Chile but Argentina still picked up the 1-0 victory on the late goal to clinch a spot in the knockout rounds with one group stage match to spare. 

Argentina put the pressure on early, racking up a 13-0 advantage on shots in the first half. Chile managed to bend not break…much like Canada in the first half of the game on Thursday. Chile threw everything they had at Messi and knocked him any chance they could get with marginal success. The legendary striker did just celebrate his 37th birthday and has been banged up, but this has been part of Chile’s playbook for years against their CONMEBOL rivals so it’s nothing new. In the 22nd minute Julian Alvarez got a good look from the left center of the box on target that was saved by Bravo. In the 36th minute Messi fielded a cross from Enzo Fernandez and uncorked a screamer from the center of the pitch about 30 yards out from the goal which hit the right post and missed by only a few inches. Chile quickly turned the ball back over and Messi wove his way back through traffic and the mall found Nahuel Molina in the far right corner who sent a through ball into the box intercepted by Erick Pulgar and narrowly missed an own goal on the clearance curling outside that same right post by a few inches more than Messi’s shot just prior, keeping the match scoreless at the half. 

In the second half Argentina picked up right where they left off and just kept firing…a few minutes behind schedule coming out of the locker room three minutes after the scheduled start of the second half. In the 50th minute, Messi sent a through ball up to Molina in the right side of the box but his shot was saved by Bravo. Gabriel Suazo earned a yellow card for a hard foul to set up a free kick for Messi in the 57th minute which sailed above the pack to a streaking Alexis MacAllister who had cleared the pack by a mile but just barely missed getting a touch before Bravo was able to grab the ball to save the goal. In the 61st, Nicolas Gonzalez fired a left footer from the left side of the box but Bravo was able to make the leaping save to send Gonzalez’s shot into the crossbar. It took until the 72nd minute for Chile to even get their first shot off. Mauricio Isla sent a pass from the right side of the box which deflected back out to Rodrigo Echevarria outside the box to send a shot directly at Emiliano Martinez for his first save. A few minutes later in the 76th Echevarria got off the second shot from near the top of the box, just to make sure Martinez was awake. In the 88th minute, Chile finally broke. A Messi free kick went into the scrum and bounced around like a pinball before finding its way to Lautaro Martinez in the left center of the box to put a shot into the left side of the net. VAR performed a lengthy check as Argentina was very close to being offside. Lines showed on TV replays confirmed that Bravo in goal kept Argentina onside by mere inches for VAR to confirm the goal and give Argentina a 1-0 victory and clinch a top two finish in their group and a spot in the Quarterfinals. 

News and notes: 

  • This is Argentina’s 11th straight appearance in the Copa America Quarterfinals. Argentina sits in first in Group A with 6 points and a +3 Goal Differential, with Canada in second with 3 points and a -1 GD. 
  • Argentina has a long history of using up excessive time in the locker room to mess with opponents. In the 1978 World Cup Final in Buenos Aires, Argentina did not come out of the locker room until five minutes after scheduled kickoff, enraging their Dutch opponents and whipping up the crowd into a frenzy as the blue and white claimed their first World Cup championship on home soil by a score of 3-1. 
  • The match attendance of 81,106 at MetLife Stadium was the second largest ever at a Copa America game in the United States, behind only the epic 2016 Finals match also at MetLife which had 82,026 fans in attendance.
  • Play in Group A resumes on Saturday June 29 with Argentina playing Peru in Miami and Canada playing Chile in Orlando. 
  • Since Canada would need to win and Argentina would need to lose by a combined five goals to fall to second place in their group, Argentina’s first knockout match is likely the first quarterfinal match in Houston on July 4 against the runner up from Group B of Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, and Jamaica. 

JD Walker is one of the co-founders of Stream Punk Entertainment and has covered the Philadelphia Union, Big East Basketball, and New Jersey high school basketball since 2022. He has a wide-spanning career with experience in a variety of roles inside and outside the world of sports including basketball operations, gameday entertainment, promotions, broadcasting, and finance. He’s a Jersey Shore native sprung from a cage on Highway 9, and loves to geek out on the business and legal side of the games we all love.

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