Top five talking points ahead of the 2016 Copa America final

Sport360 staff 26/06/2016
Celebrations: Chile with the title in 2015.

Argentina take on Chile in the Copa America Centenario final on Sunday night in the knowledge that this may be the best shot for their ‘golden generation’ to secure a major title that has for so long seemed only a matter of time.

However, things will not be in any way straightforward against a Chilean side who won the competition just a year ago and will be hoping for a repeat.

Ahead of the game, Sport360 takes a look at five of the major talking points.

The weight of expectation

A 23-year wait for a major tournament trophy has brought with it a heavy burden for Gerardo Martino’s men.

Given they were beaten by Chile last year, how much will those two factors play on their minds? For this golden generation, it feels like a last-chance saloon to end the drought.

Although they’ve been in explosive form Stateside, Chile are best placed to cause another upset. So will it be revenge or yet more heartbreak for La Albiceleste?

Neutralising Messi

The Barcelona man is the player of the tournament by some margin. But, of course, this is not the first time he has dazzled in the knockout stages.

When it comes to finals though, it’s a different story. In both the World Cup final and last year’s Copa showpiece, the superstar has failed to deliver.

Charles Aranguiz was employed in a defensive role for La Roja last year and was able to isolate Messi from his team-mates.

While nobody has suppressed him so far, can Chile force another dip when it matters most?

An early goal could be decisive

Since Chile’s shoot-out success in Santiago, the two sides have met twice with Argentina winning both 2-1 – the second coming in their opening game of this year’s Copa.

Without the injured Messi, Angel Di Maria took centre stage in a intense battle dominated by midfield grit and we could be looking at something similar.

Past clashes have been decided by small margins because both sides can hurt each other. Another ebb and flow spectacle is expected but crucial to that will be an early goal.

Midfield battle

With Arturo Vidal back in the heart of Chile’s relentless pressing machine we could be set for another vigorous battle in midfield between these two talent-rich South American giants.

Argentina’s Javier Mascherano is at his peak and his clash with Vidal is a mouthwatering prospect.

Both players harbour a clench-fisted determination and will to win which will form the driving force behind their sides push for Copa glory.

While the attention may be on the attackers, it’s in the middle where this game will be won.

Pizzi’s approach

Chile boss Juan Antonio Pizzi adopted a different approach in the polished 2-0 semi-final win over Colombia.

Known for their high-tempo and attacking approach, La Roja showed they can win games by defending from deep. They invited Colombian pressure and bombed forward on the counter-attack.

Whether Pizzi adopts a similar approach against Argentina remains to be seen given the threat their opponents possess going forward.

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Corinthians confirm Tite exit, takes Brazil job

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In command: Tite.

Corinthians boss Tite was on Wednesday night named as the new coach of Brazil, succeeding Dunga following his dismissal after the team’s humiliating exit from the Copa America.

Tite managed Al Ain in 2007 and briefly Al Wahda in 2010 before returning to his native Brazil to coach Sao Paulo-based Corinthians.

The 55-year-old then went on to lead Corinthians to a double of the regional Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup glory in 2012.

“Tite no longer works at Corinthians. He accepted the invitation from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF),” said president Roberto de Andrade, who then raged at the CBF for their conduct.

“I am p***** off with the CBF over the way they came to grab Tite from here. I never received a phone call from the president. The national team does not deserve Tite, they are not used to dealing with ethical people as you can see by how the took him from the club.”

Tite takes over from former Brazil captain Dunga, who failed to turn the team around sufficiently after their embarrassing 7-1 World Cup semi-final thrashing by Germany on home soil in 2014.

Tite – whose real name is Adenor Leonardo Bacchi – has coached a string of top clubs in Brazil, including Gremio, Atletico Mineiro and Palmeiras but has twice turned down the opportunity to coach the Selecao.

He has spent three trophy-studded stints at Corinthians, leading the club to two Brazilian league titles, in 2011 and 2015, and the Copa Sudamericana in 2013.

He will be tasked with transforming a struggling Brazil in the middle of a lacklustre qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup. They are currently sixth place in their regional group.

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Three ways Messi has proven superhuman at Copa America

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Messi shines at Copa America

Lionel Messi has often been criticised for not delivering on the biggest stage for his country, but at this year’s Copa America the Argentine has showcased his phenomenal talent.

The 28 year-old has lit up the continental competition in the 71 collective minutes he’s spent on the pitch and here’s how the Argentine has taken centre stage despite missing the first act and being resigned to a role off the bench.

TESTING PREPARATION

Messi’s preparation ahead of the tournament was far from ideal. Just five days after Barcelona’s Copa del Rey triumph over Sevilla, he was with the national squad for a friendly against Honduras during which he picked up an injury.

He then jetted back to Spain for the opening of his trial for tax fraud before returning to the Argentina camp for the first group game against Chile where he was an unused substitute in his side’s 2-1 win.

For any other player, the trying circumstances would almost certainly have resulted in a poor showing, but Lionel Messi isn’t just any other player, is he?

A STELLAR INTRODUCTION

It doesn’t matter who you support, if Messi is in town you want to watch the best player on the planet strut his stuff. The crowd in Chicago, Illinois for Argentina’s clash with Panama were no different.

Even as Messi watched on from the bench, an eager audience bellowed his name from the stands as they urged Albiceleste coach Gerardo Martino to introduce the star attraction.

They were granted their wish just after the hour-mark and the cameo appearance that followed has arguably been the highlight of the tournament so far. Any concerns over his fitness, and therefore effectiveness, were dispelled with three goals in a glorious 19-minute spell.

A rather careless giveaway by Panama saw the ball ricochet off Gonzalo Higuain and into Messi’s path who beat the keeper with ease for his first. Ten minutes later Messi doubled his tally, curling a trademark free-kick into the top right corner.

He wasn’t done yet though, Messi completing his hat-trick with three minutes to play as he took the defender out of the equation by cutting on to his left foot and slotting past the keeper.

NOT YOUR RUN-OF-THE-MILL IMPACT SUB

There’s no denying that Messi’s very presence on the pitch gives his team a lift. Argentina, with a slender 1-0 lead, were in front against Panama but by no means comfortable before the Barcelona star’s introduction, the game lacking in real quality.

All that changed once Messi arrived. He instantly provided a spark that ignited the contest and, well, you know the rest.

And while he wasn’t on the score sheet in the final group game against Bolivia, an offside flag denied what would’ve been a quiet sensational goal for the diminutive forward.

His run was a fraction too early and he was marginally offside as he went clean through before audaciously nutmegging the keeper before lining up the finish. That little snippet of play was another example of the different dimension Messi brings to the game.

Argentina take on Venezuela in the quarter-finals on Saturday and while the encounter is an intriguing one for a variety of reasons, the very prospect of being treated to a fully-recuperated Messi performance alone will have audiences on the edge of their seats.

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