As Alexis Sanchez so ingeniously lifted the ball over the line, Leo Messi could barely lift his head to look. It led to what Arturo Vidal described as a “dream” and an utterly crestfallen Javier Mascherano called “torture”.
This is what the Arsenal star’s glorious clinching spot-kick really represented, as hosts Chile claimed their first ever international trophy by beating Argentina 4-1 on penalties after a tense 0-0 draw in Saturday’s Copa America final in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional.
This match meant that one country’s so-called golden generation is at last fulfilled, while another’s remains frustrated. Argentina will now go even longer than 22 years without a trophy, since their last Copa America win in 1993.
A visibly sickened Messi didn’t speak afterwards, but it was difficult not to feel some sympathy for Mascherano, who couldn’t resist a forlorn look at the big continental trophy as he walked by to collect his unwanted silver medal.
“I don’t have an explanation,” the Barcelona midfielder said. “Maybe it’s me. This is torture.”
While one manager got it absolutely right, the other got it very wrong.
Argentina’s Gerardo Martino served to almost minimise the effect of the immense talent at his disposal. Chile’s Jorge Sampaoli - himself an Argentine - found the perfect game-plan to almost totally nullify Messi, and also ensure the hosts had the better chances.
“We wanted to neutralise Messi,” Sampaoli said. “The idea was for us to be the on the front foot so the opposition wouldn’t be able to dominate the play.”
“Even if that failure was put in context by word that his family had to be moved to a TV cabin after being attacked by Chilean fans in the stands.
Messi was always surrounded by at least three players, who took turns to either tackle or foul him. With Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan noticeably lenient with some ferocious tackles, the oddity was that Messi let this get to him.
Neither was Messi helped by Martino’s approach, that left him so bizarrely isolated. Despite all that, when the Argentine captain finally broke free of so many shackles in the 90th minute, he still set up the best chance of the game. That, however, only revealed the next problem.
With Angel Di Maria already off injured in the first half with a hamstring problem, Martino made the bizarre decision to remove Sergio Aguero, and Argentina were left with the unimaginative Ezequiel Lavezzi and undependable Gonzalo Higuain up front. Lavezzi picked up Messi’s late pass only to play a poor cross, but Higuain still should have scored from the resulting chance. It wasn’t the Napoli striker’s only big miss. After Fernandez and Messi had hit the first two penalties of the shoot-out superbly, Higuain drilled his well over the bar. Argentina didn’t score another, and Sanchez was left to lift the ball past Romero, and lift an entire nation.
Bravo 8; Isla 8, Silva 8, Medel 8, Beausejour 6; Vidal 8, Diaz 8, Aranguiz 8; Valdivia 8 (Fernandez 75, 9); Vargas 7 (Henriquez 95, 7), Sanchez 8
Romero 8; Zabaleta 7, Demichelis 6, Otamendi 7, Rojo 6; Biglia 5, Mascherano 6, Pastore 6 (Banega 91, 6); Messi 6, Aguero 5 (Higuain 74, 3), Di Maria 6 (Lavezzi 29, 3)