Now or never for 2 golden generations

Argentina's midfielder Javier Pastore (centre) celebrating with team-mates Lionel Messi (left) and Pablo Zabaleta after scoring against Paraguay in the semi-final. Argentina can bounce back quickly from last year's World Cup disappointment with a Cop
Argentina's midfielder Javier Pastore (centre) celebrating with team-mates Lionel Messi (left) and Pablo Zabaleta after scoring against Paraguay in the semi-final. Argentina can bounce back quickly from last year's World Cup disappointment with a Copa title.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Argentina and Chile can erase long years of major trophy drought in today's Copa final

SANTIAGO • The prospect of leading his country to a first major football title in 22 years is driving Lionel Messi as Argentina take on Chile in Santiago, Chile's capital, today 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 suffering an agonising defeat by Germany in last year's World Cup final in Brazil.

Chile, meanwhile, are anxious to finally shed their unwanted tag as the perennial nearly men of South American football.

They can end 99 years of hurt by winning a first Copa America.

An Argentinian 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.

It would also erase the sense of frustration that the forward has often felt at the international level, 10 years after he had led Argentina to victory as a teenager in the 2005 Under-20 World Cup.

"This generation is desperate to win a title with the national team," Messi said on the eve of the final.

"As a team, we deserve to win something and it would mean so much after the World Cup last year where we came so close."

Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, who featured in an Under-20 World Cup-winning side in 2007, believes defeat is not an option.

"If this generation of players don't win anything, we're going to regret it for the rest of our lives," the Manchester City star said.

After 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.

Messi produced a scintillating man-of-the-match display in Tuesday's 6-1 semi-final destruction of Paraguay.

He set up three goals for team-mates and ran the opposition ragged with a superb performance.

Standing in Messi's way, however, are a Chilean team who know they may never have a better chance to finally end their nation's long wait for a trophy.

Since a 6-1 defeat by 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 if they win today, with 14 titles, Chile are still waiting for their first crown after finishing runners-up four times.

Chile have also never beaten Argentina at the Copa America in a total of 24 attempts.

Chile's own golden generation - featuring the likes of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Claudio Bravo - believe today represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"This group of players has grown a lot, it's the right time to win something," Juventus midfielder Vidal said earlier this month.

"There is pressure but we are very calm and anxious to show that we are a strong team."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

COPA AMERICA

3rd placing: Peru v Paraguay

StarHub Ch202, 7.30am

Final: Chile v Argentina

Ch202, tomorrow, 4am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'NOW OR NEVER FOR 2 GOLDEN GENERATIONS'. Print Edition | Subscribe