RIO DE JANEIRO (REUTERS, AFP ) - Argentina won their first major title in 28 years on Saturday (July 10) when an Angel Di Maria goal gave them a 1-0 win over Brazil and a record-equalling 15th Copa America.
Di Maria, starting for just the second time in the Copa, got the winner midway through the first half when he lobbed Ederson after full-back Renan Lodi failed to cut out a long through ball.
Brazil piled on the pressure in an exciting second half but even with five strikers on the field, they could not get an equaliser against an Argentine defence protected by the outstanding Rodrigo De Paul.
“We fell short so many times, we dreamt so much about this, fought so hard,” said Di Maria, who was named Man of the Match. “Many people said we wouldn’t manage it, we were criticised a lot. But we kept knocking at the door and kept going until today we knocked it down and entered.”
“This is a very big title,” said Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni. “I hope that Argentines can enjoy it. The fans love the team unconditionally and I think they identify with this side that never drops its guard.”
Argentina's win was a particular triumph for Barcelona striker Lionel Messi, who picked up his first-ever title in a blue-and-white shirt after more than a decade of club and individual honours.
He finished the tournament as its joint-top scorer with four goals and was elected joint best player along with Brazil's Neymar. But he was quiet throughout the match and uncharacteristically missed a golden opportunity to wrap the game up with two minutes remaining.
The match, a cagey affair marked by niggly fouls throughout, saw nine yellow cards dished out - five for Argentina and four for Brazil - by referee Esteban Ostojich.
When the final whistle went, Argentina TV declared “Argentina Champions, Lionel Messi Champion!” The victory means Argentina draw level with Uruguay as the all-time leading winners of the Copa.
Their win extended their sequence of undefeated matches to 20 under Scaloni and handed Brazil their first competitive defeat since they lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup. It also ended Brazil’s unbeaten home record that stretched back more than 2,500 days.
“First we have to congratulate our opponents especially for the first half when they neutralised us,” said Brazilian defender Thiago Silva. “In the second half, there was no contest – only one team tried to play football, the other just wasted time as we knew they would. It’s not an excuse, we didn’t do what we had to, principally in the first half.”
Meanwhile, a "considerable number" of guests specially invited to watch the Copa America final between Brazil and Argentina had faked false Covid-19 tests to ensure their entry, organisers the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) said.
Although fans were banned from the first 27 games of the tournament due to the pandemic in South America, Conmebol, which governs South American football, and Rio de Janeiro authorities decided to allow 6,500 invited guests into the final, or around 10 per cent of the Maracana Stadium's capacity.
All attendees were required to present a negative Covid-19 test before entering.
However, "a considerable number of fraudulent PCR tests have been detected both among those accredited for the Argentina section and the Brazil section," Conmebol said.
"These people will not be allowed into the stadium. The controls to ensure access to the final of the Copa America will be extremely rigorous."
The organisation did not specify how many of tests were fraudulent.