After three weeks of some highly entertaining football, it all comes down to this: We are rewarded with the final bettors certainly wanted to see. Hosts and second-favourites Chile, seeking its first ever international title, takes on pre-tournament favourite Argentina for the Copa America title in Santiago on Saturday.
Chile (odds: 3.60) have massive home support and this represents its best chance of ending a long wait for glory since reaching the Copa America final 28 years ago.
The weight of expectation is on Chile’s shoulders. Brazil was crushed under the hopes of a nation in a 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat by Germany and the way Argentina (2.12) dismantled Paraguay 6-1 in the Copa America semi-final means La Albiceleste enter the Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos as a slight favourite. The draw is available at 3.30.
Yet La Roja are perhaps blessed with their best-ever generation. Players such as Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Arturo Vidal (Juventus) and Claudio Bravo (Barcelona) provide a strong spine. But it is unheralded players such Mauricio Isla, who spent the season in futile relegation battle with QPR when on-loan from Juventus, and Napoli’s Eduardo Vargas (who was also at QPR last term), who have stepped up and used the shop window to best effect.
Isla scored the only goal in the quarter-final against Uruguay, while Vargas scored both goals in the 2-1 semi-final defeat of Peru.
Chile’s pressure game is based on pressing high up the pitch and a quick-passing attack. The foundation of the style came from Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa (who is currently at Marseille, but who was on West Ham’s radar until recently). Bielsa achieved cult status in charge of Chile with his 3-3-3-1 formations and the brand has continued to thrive under his disciple and compatriot Jorge Sampaoli.
La Roja is greater whole than the sum of its parts, epitomising the ‘team’ philosophy. In contrast, Argentina coach Gerardo Martino has arguably had a much tougher job, trying to keep happy a squad that bristles with star quality and attempting to bring out the best in those mega-stars.
Argentina invariably start slowly in tournaments and come on strong. Though they drew 0-0 with Colombia (going through on penalties) in the quarter-final, Martino’s side created plenty of opportunities. Those chances were taken in the semi-final against a ragged Paraguay defence, who were pulled apart by the movement of Lionel Messi and Javier Pastore.
Up front, Sergio Aguero is one of the best finishers around and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain looks certain to be among the Premier League’s elite should either Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool take a chance on the 27-year-old.
Pastore has had a great season at PSG and while Angel di Maria has failed to shine at Manchester United – largely because he has been played out of position and is better-suited to the right wing in the physical Premier League – he appears to have renewed confidence playing for his country.
Having lost the World Cup final to Germany after extra-time, this could be the last chance for Argentina’s golden generation to win a major title, something that has eluded La Albiceleste since 1993.
Chile has reached the Copa America final four times and has yet to taste victory, while Argentina seeks a 15th Copa title.
Argentina threw off the shackles against Paraguay, but will these highly creative individuals go into their shell? They were beaten in five World Cups without reaching the semi-finals before having a marshmallow draw in Brazil to reach the semi-finals. Then they blew that biggest-of-all chance for a title, failing to score a goal in the last five hours in the tournament.
Chile has won just two of its last 37 meetings with Argentina, whom the rest of South America will be against for many reasons other than football.
La Roja have been a revelation, although the cup-cake schedule en route to the final has definitely boosted confidence.
In skill terms, this final encapsulates everything good – and there has been plenty – that has been on show at this tournament, and it is a tough call to pick the winner.
We go with Argentina, as they have the fire-power to change the team’s dynamic from off the bench. But it should be close for at least an hour.
VERDICT: CHILE 1 ARGENTINA 3 @ 17.00
BEST BET: ARGENTINA OVER 2 GOALS OR MORE @ 2.10
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