Argentina tops Chile in last year’s Copa final rematch
SANTA CLARA, California — On the day his grandmother died back home, Angel Di Maria’s mother asked him to stay with his team, stay focused, and represent his country well in Copa America.
Di Maria scored in the 51st minute off a pass from Ever Banega, then later assisted on Banega’s goal, and top-ranked Argentina looked plenty powerful without injured captain Lionel Messi in beating Chile 2-1 in its Copa America opener Monday (Tuesday Manila time).
After his goal, Di Maria held up a shirt reading “Grandma, I’ll miss you very much.”
“It’s difficult to be away when something like this happens,” Di Maria said in his on-field postgame interview, crying. “My mom asked me to stay here with my teammates and to win the game.”
Jose Pedro Fuenzalida scored in the third minute of stoppage time as Chile avoided a shutout.
There were five yellow cards issued in a testy rematch of last year’s final won by La Roja on penalty kicks. Cards were given to Di Maria and Gary Medel in the 65th minute after they tussled near the left sideline of Argentina’s offensive half.
Di Maria assisted on Banega’s deflected goal in the 59th minute as Messi cheered from the bench.
Chile’s Eugenio Mena was taken off on a stretcher in the 53rd minute after pulling up and appearing to grab his right hamstring, with no contact made.
Playing at home last year, Chile beat Argentina and Messi 4-1 on penalty kicks for La Roja’s first Copa championship. Argentina’s senior team has not won a major title since the 1993 Copa, losing to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.
Argentina beat Chile 2-1 in World Cup qualifying in Santiago on March 24.
The match in the San Francisco 49ers’ $1.3 billion stadium outdrew the Friday opener in which Colombia beat the United States 2-0. A crowd of 67,439 was announced.
Both teams had good chances in a fast-paced first half featuring two yellow cards against Chile.
Nicolas Gaitan had a header from 8 yards in the second minute that Chile goalkeeper Johnny Herrera punched over the crossbar.
In the 18th minute, Gaitan — starting in place of Messi — went down hard and his right knee buckled after a tackle from behind by Arturo Vidal that earned him a yellow card.
Gonzalo Higuain’s shot from the left side in the box went just left off the post in the 23rd minute, then Argentina had another chance thwarted on Marcos Rojo’s header off a corner kick.
La Albiceleste goalkeeper Mariano Andujar made a great diving stop in the 30th minute, using his right hand to swat away a shot by Alexis Sanchez after a pair of pretty passes from Marcelo Diaz and Vidal, prompting Messi to clap on the bench.
“The team is different if Messi is playing or not,” Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said. “Messi’s probably more dangerous than any other soccer player. That’s an advantage we had. But the player who replaced Messi, Gaitan, played well. He has other virtues, other characteristics. He helped them have a better structure and made them a solid team. They were able to take advantage of their opportunity.”
The news about Messi not starting was hardly a surprise given the 28-year-old Barcelona star’s recent back injury. The midfielder practiced on the side during Sunday’s training and not with the full team.
Messi testified last Thursday in his tax fraud trial in Spain and joined the national team the next day. He didn’t get to catch up with Golden State Warriors superstar MVP Stephen Curry, who instead offered his well wishes after a Game 2 NBA Finals win against Cleveland.
“He’s got business to take care of, so good luck to him,” Curry said. “I know he’s going to be ready.”
Chile defender Gonzalo Jara played in his first Copa match since sticking his finger into the backside of Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani in the 2015 Copa quarterfinals that earned Jara a three-game suspension.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati was in attendance at sold-out Levi’s Stadium ahead of traveling to Chicago for the Americans’ second Group A stage match Tuesday against Costa Rica.
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