Two long droughts ended on Saturday at the Copa América final: Argentina won their first major title since 1993 after a 1-0 win against Brazil. And Lionel Messi finally lifted his first major trophy for the national team, filling in one of the biggest gaps in his decorated career.
Argentina’s winning goal at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro came in the 22nd minute after Rodrigo de Paul made a long pass to Ángel Di Maria. The 33-year-old veteran striker counted on some sloppy defending from left-back Renan Lodi to take control and lob it past goalkeeper Ederson.
When the match ended, a tearful Messi was thrown into the air by some of his joyous teammates. Once criticized by Argentina fans for his quietness, he went to the few hundred guests chanting his name at the Maracanã and celebrated. Messi kissed the trophy before lifting it into the air during the presentations.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni made five changes from the starting lineup that beat Colombia on penalties in the semi-final.
Gonzalo Montiel, Cristian Romero, Marcos Acuña, Leandro Paredes and D María took the places of Nahuel Molina, Nicolás Tagliafico, Guido Rodríguez and Nicolás González.
Brazil, a team recognized for their steadiness, did not make any changes from the team that advanced to the final.
The teams were cautious early in the match, barely offering chances.
Neymar tried hard with dribbles and passes, but the Seleção barely threatened Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in the first half. Argentina sat in the back, hoping for counter-attacks.
Brazil coach Tite tried to change the dynamic of the match by replacing defensive midfielder Fred for Roberto Firmino, and managed to do so for much of the second half. But though the Selecao had more ball posession there were few real opportunities.
Messi’s performance in the final was not as impressive as in previous matches of the tournament, during which he scored four goals and had five assists. He had a clear opportunity in the 88th minute, tried to dribble Ederson, but the Brazilian goalkeeper stopped him.
The title, however, provides the superstar some relief after all the questions throughout his career on his effectiveness playing for the national team.
The South American trophy is a relief for Argentina, which won their last major title when Messi was only six years old. Saturday’s victory in Rio gave the team its 15th Copa América title, equaling Uruguay’s total. Brazil has won the South American title nine times.