RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Two long droughts ended on Saturday at the Copa America final: Argentina won its first major title since 1993 after a 1-0 win against Brazil. And Lionel Messi finally lifted his first major trophy for the national team, filling in one of the biggest gaps in his decorated career.
Argentina’s winning goal at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro came in the 22nd minute after Rodrigo de Paul made a long pass to Ángel di Maria. The 33-year-old veteran striker counted on some sloppy defending from left-back Renan Lodi to take control and lob it past goalkeeper Ederson.
When the match ended, a tearful Messi knelt down and put his hands on his face. Then most of his teammates ran in his direction to celebrate and threw him into the air. Once criticized by Argentina fans for his quietness, he went to the few hundred guests chanting his name at the Maracana and chanted with them. Messi kissed the trophy before lifting it into the air during the presentations.
The teams were cautious early in the match, barely offering chances. When Argentina opened the scoring in a rare Brazil defensive mistake and Di Maria’s classy finish, the match became more physical and Argentina successfully stopped the ball from getting to Neymar.
Neymar tried hard with dribbles and passes, but the Selecao barely threatened Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in the first half. Argentina sat in the back, hoping for counter-attacks.
Brazil coach Tite tried to change the dynamic of the match by replacing defensive midfielder Fred for Roberto Firmino, and managed to do so for much of the second half. But though the Selecao had more ball posession there were few real opportunities.
Messi’s performance in the final was not as impressive as in previous matches of the tournament, during which he scored four goals and had five assists. He had a clear opportunity in the 88th minute, tried to dribble Ederson, but the Brazilian goalkeeper stopped him.