EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Great satisfaction. That is what Chile felt after winning its second consecutive Copa America title on Sunday.
At the same time, there was also a feeling of wanting more.
Chile raised the Copa America Centenario trophy on Sunday night after defeating Argentina in the final via penalty kicks for the second time in as many years. The 4-2 win in the shootout came at the end of 120 hard-fought, scoreless minutes at Metlife Stadium, and it was largely overshadowed by Lionel Messi’s post-game revelation that he was calling it a career on the international level.
While Messi will continue to dominate the headlines in the coming days and weeks, Chile will be busy celebrating its Copa America crown. The Chileans proved once again this summer that they are a force in world soccer to be reckoned with, and that the controversial 2015 championship that they won was no fluke.
“Winning this title with a group of players will hopefully permit us to keep evolving and growing as a national team,” said Chile head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi. “This group is surpassing its limits and raising the bar.”
Chile did so on Sunday with a gritty, not pretty, performance. La Roja kept the in-form Messi and his band of skillful compatriots at bay for an hour-and-a-half, combining hard-nosed and committed defending with a healthy dose of counterattacks and necessary fouling.
One such foul led to the controversial ejection of Mauro Diaz in the 29th minute, but not even that sending off could help Argentina find the breakthrough vs. Chile’s back line. The game eventually got back on level terms late in the first half when Marcos Rojo was given a questionable straight red card for a crunching slide tackle on Arturo Vidal.
Playing 10-v-10 for the rest of the match, Chile more than held its own. The reigning South American champion held Messi at bay, flocking defenders in numbers to him almost every time he tried one of his patented mazy dribbles, and almost plucked a goal on a couple of occasions in transition.
Chile showed fight, toughness, character, resolve, and quality. Then it demonstrated composure when it mattered most, outdoing Argentina in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout that started with a Vidal miss and Messi balloon.
“We had nothing to worry about. We had played the correct game to that point, and obviously we had all the desire in the world to win it,” said Jose Fuenzalida. “We knew Argentina had a lot of pressure. We had won the year before and obviously wanted to do it again. We did it, so we’re more than thrilled about that.”
Thrilled but not satisfied.
Chile’s golden generation of players wants to keep adding to its accomplishments and medals, and stands a good chance to do so given that Vidal, lethal forward tandem Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, and others are still playing at a very high level for club and country.
The Chileans were criticized for having won last year’s Copa America on home soil thanks in part to favorable referee decisions, but there was no such talk this time. They improved gradually over the course of the tournament, after losing to Argentina, 2-1, in their first group match, and proved that they deserve a seat at the table of the world’s elite.
Now, the next goal is to try and win their first World Cup title in two years’ time. Chile might not be the favorite to do so even after back-to-back Copa America crowns, but that is just fine. The team has defied the odds before.
“We’re very hungry to accomplish great things,” said Vidal. “We’ve accomplished two (titles), but the World Cup is still missing. Hopefully, we can accomplish that, too.”