SANTA CLARA (California) • A grieving Angel di Maria was the inspiration, as Argentina shrugged off the absence of Lionel Messi to defeat holders Chile 2-1 in their opening Copa America Centenario game on Monday.
The Paris Saint-Germain star, reeling from the death of his grandmother only hours earlier, scored and set up another goal as the two-time world champions avenged their defeat in last year's Copa America final.
The forward opened the scoring on 51 minutes and emotionally held a T-shirt up to the sky emblazoned with the message: "Grandma, I will miss you so much."
Moments later, he set up Ever Banega to complete a Man-of-the-Match performance.
"I had to play, I wanted to play. My grandmother was so proud that I played for the national team," di Maria said during a post-match television interview before breaking down in tears.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino revealed later that the player had kept his loss a secret from him.
HE KEPT IT FROM OTHERS
I just learnt five minutes ago that his grandmother had died. He didn't tell me anything, he was feeling well enough to play.
GERARDO MARTINO, Argentina coach, on di Maria's bereavement.
"I just learnt five minutes ago that his grandmother had died," he said. "He didn't tell me anything, he was feeling well enough to play."
Di Maria's virtuoso display secured three points for Argentina, who will fancy their chances of topping Group D with Panama and Bolivia to come.
Chile substitute Jose Fuenzalida scored an injury-time consolation for the holders.
Injured Argentina captain Messi watched from the substitutes' bench at Levi's Stadium after failing to recover in time from a sore back suffered in a friendly win over Honduras last month.
But the Barcelona superstar's absence was barely noticeable, with Nicolas Gaitan slotting nicely into Argentina's attack and making an instant impression with his penetrative play.
Martino expects Messi to be fit for the game against Panama at Chicago's Soldier Field on Friday.
"He has continued working here, he's kicking the ball better now," the coach said. "We expect in four days he'll be in a condition to play. So we're thinking we will be in a better position by then.
"We're always a better team when Messi is in the team. Our chances of winning the Copa are always going to be higher when he's playing."
Argentina struggled in their first three 2018 World Cup qualifying matches last year when Messi was absent with a knee injury, posting a loss and two draws.
Martino, however, believes his team are learning to adapt in their captain's absence. "It's important to respond the right way when he's not there," he said. "Today we came with 23 players and all of them contributed. We showed virtue as a team."
Chile's Argentina-born coach Juan Antonio Pizzi bemoaned mistakes which cost his team.
Twice Chile ceded possession cheaply in midfield, leading to Argentina's two goals. "The mistakes were crucial," he said. "They cost us two goals."
He shrugged off suggestions that his team were in a slump after what was a third consecutive defeat following recent friendly losses to Jamaica and Mexico.
"During the course of the game I did not notice a big difference between the two teams," he said.
"I know we have difficult games ahead of us, but we're going to continue working hard and we have belief to move to the next round."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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