SANTIAGO: The prospect of leading his country to a first major title in 22 years is driving Lionel Messi as Argentina meet Chile on Saturday in a Copa America final clash of the golden generations.
The three-week South American football showpiece reaches its climax at the Estadio Nacional with a dream final pitting the favourites against the hosts, and the stakes could not be any higher for both sides.
Messi heads a star-studded Argentina desperate to write their own piece of history by winning a first international title since 1993, 12 months after an agonising defeat to Germany in last year’s World Cup final.
Chile, meanwhile, are anxious to finally shed their unwanted tag as the perennial nearly men of South American football, ending 99 years of hurt by winning their first Copa America.
An Argentine triumph would crown a remarkable season for Messi, who less than a month ago completed a treble-winning campaign with Barcelona with victory in the Champions League final.
“This generation is desperate to win a title with the national team,” said Messi. “It would mean so much after the World Cup last year where we came so close.”
After a series of unconvincing performances in the first phase, and a nervy win on penalties against Colombia in the quarter-finals, the signs are that Argentina have hit form at the right time.
Messi produced a scintillating man-of-the-match display in Tuesday’s 6-1 semi-final destruction of Paraguay, setting up three goals and running the opposition ragged.
Standing in Messi’s way, however, is a Chilean side who knows they may never have a better chance to finally end their nation’s long wait for a trophy.
Since a 6-1 defeat to Argentina in the inaugural South American Championship in 1916, Chile have endured nearly a century of failure.
While Argentina will join Uruguay as the most successful side in the tournament’s history if they win on Saturday, with 14 titles, Chile are still waiting for their first crown after finishing runners-up four times.
Chile’s own golden generation — featuring the likes of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Claudio Bravo — believe the final represents a now-or-never moment.
“This group of players has grown a lot, it’s the right time to win something,” said Juventus midfielder Vidal.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2015.
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