82,026 people were on hand today in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to watch Chile and Argentina play the beautiful game in the final of the Copa America Centenario. What they witnessed was an ugly duel, as far and away the two best teams in the tournament completely canceled each other out for 120 minutes of joyless, scoreless soccer marred by a festival of yellow and red cards.
As the atmosphere at the game soured, Brazilian head referee Heber Lopes struggled to keep the game under control. Things turned ugly when Marcelo Diaz for Chile was sent off with for a dubious second yellow in the 28th minute. Further cards followed – including a yellow on Messi for simulation! Then Marcos Rojo for Argentina was sent off with a straight red for a questionable foul on Arturo Vidal.
In all, Lopes dealt six cards in the first half alone: five yellows, one of them a yellow-red, and one straight red card. Three more yellows in the second half brought the total to nine, as both teams played with ten men for nearly an hour and a half.
The struggles of the two best players for each side summarize the game: Lionel Messi showed moments of brilliance on the ball and created dangerous opportunities for Argentina, but failed to break Chile’s stout defense. Opposite him, Arturo Vidal mustered all his discipline to dominate the ball in the midfield and serve his struggling forwards. Neither won the upper hand, and so after two grueling hours the match went to penalties.
Their parallel struggles continued: Vidal took Chile’s opening penalty kick – saved by Sergio Romero. Messi took the first shot for Argentina, but blasted the ball over the goal. Now it was in their teammates’ hands. Claudio Bravo for Chile blocked Lucas Biglia’s shot, and Francisco Silva made his. King Arturo and Chile win the Copa America again, but it wasn’t pretty.