Di Maria’s goal crushed Brazil’s title hopes as Argentina lift the Copa America title for the 15th time

July 11, 2021

In the moments that had led up to the South American Clasico final of the Copa America 2021 an interesting piece of article on Angel Di Maria came to my view. The article had been written by Di Maria himself where he described the emotions that took over him on the morning of the 2014 World Cup Final when Argentina faced Germany as he had been injured and was doubtful to play, he wrote- “I was not worried about my career. I was not worried about starting the match. The truth is that I just wanted us to achieve our dream. I wanted us to be remembered as legends in our country. We were close…” Argentina had lost that final to Germany on extra time but they did not fail to stun the world this time as they came to the pitch of the historical Maracana Stadium and one of the “Old Guards” had fulfilled his dream to beat Brazil on their home soil.

The picture says it all

Angel Di Maria. His name would be carved in the pages of history as the veteran player whose solitary goal had broken the 28-year-old trophy drought for Argentina and La Albiceleste emerged victorious with Lionel Messi their leader on and off the pitch as he achieved his dream of winning a major championship title in his country’s colors. Football is magical. It always provides opportunities for redemption. It makes heroes and legends every minute and every second of the game. That is the reason why we love the game so much. The passion to gain back the lost glory and the fight that goes into making it happen is unbelievable.

When Rodrigo De Paul had assisted Angel Di Maria with a sublime pass over the Brazilian defense at the 22nd minute, the 33-year-old took a great first touch as Renan Lodi committed the mistake of steering the ball into the path of the lanky winger. Di Maria did not fail as he had capitalized on Lodi’s mistake and lobbed it over the top of the Brazilian custodian, Ederson Moraes at the back of the net. The sweet smell of victory had launched over the whole of the Argentine’s minds as Angel Di Maria celebrated the goal with his captain and old friend Lionel Messi and their eyes glistened with the hope of winning the Copa America after 28 years felt real.

Di Maria’s screaming heart celebration of the goal

Brazil had become cautious thereon as they fielded a hugely unchanged line-up than their semi-final clash against Peru. They were not steady today as they had been in their previous games with the Argentine defense holding their fort and not giving Neymar or Lucas Paqueta a clear opportunity to combine and connect as they had prolifically done throughout the tournament. Lionel Scolani had made five changes to his starting line-up that had beaten Columbia in the semis as he brought on Gonzalo Montiel, Cristian Romero, Marcos Acuna, Leandro Paredes, and Di Maria to replace Nahuel Molina, Nicolas Tagliafico, Guido Rodriguez, and Nicolas Gonzalez. Rodrigo De Paul, the soon-to-be Athletico Madrid’s warrior had played an intelligent game as he tailed Neymar and blocked him from making those dribbling run-ins inside their penalty area. Whenever the 23-year-old PSG forward had the ball he was being surrounded by De Paul and three other players (Leandro Paredes, Cristian Romero, and Giovanni Lo Celso) which neutralized any kind of threat that he could have made. 

Rodrigo De Paul in action against Richarlison

Messi had created the opportunity of doubling the lead with his combination play with Lo Celso but Marquinhos and Ederson closed his movement down as the half-time dawned on the Estadio de Maracana. The half-time team talk in the Brazilian dressing room must have been pretty queer as Tite substituted Roberto “Bobby” Firminho to replace Fred in the midfield just to provide an extra pair of attacking legs into his three-man forward line. The plan seemed to work for them as Brazil looked more dangerous on the ball and were able to produce more scoring chances with Firminho often swapping his position to drop in the Argentine box as Neymar exhibited some extraordinary skills to put the ball in the flanks for Richarlison and Paqueta.

Lucas Paqueta in action

Brazil almost had their equalizer at the 52nd minute with Richarlison’s rebound shot from Otamendi’s block but the goal was adjudged offside and three minutes after the Selecao could have broken into celebration but this time Emiliano Martinez denied Richarlison with a solid stop. It were in moments like these the Argentine fans had been convinced that the trophy could be coming home for them as the Football God himself took to the field and crashed Brazil’s hope with all his might. The mentality and the character shown by this Argentine squad were like no other in the past.

The fallen heroes

Lionel Messi had been overshadowed by the success of Diego Maradona for his country and constantly was being compared with the legend needed to silence the critics once and for all. Maradona had thrived in chaos but the 34-year-old Barcelona forward is pole apart from his predecessor. The attitude that he displayed of winning the trophy with a team consisting of fresh new talents who gave their “Blood, Sweat and Tears” to touch the summit of grandeur was beyond appreciation. Although his performance was not as impressive as it had been in the previous matches of the tournament but his presence on the field was vital for their win. He had shown off his skill set in the dying embers of an otherwise exciting final while he put a defense splitting ball for Rodrigo De Paul who crossed it back for him to deliver but that could not seal the deal as he was turned down by Ederson at the mouth of the goal.

The Old Guards

The exasperation of not being able to score in the final had been dimmed off for Leo Messi as the final result declared Argentina as the Champions of South America.

Messi burst into tears at the final whistle

The quartet of the “Old Guards” included Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero along with Messi and Di Maria they had suffered a lot together and deserved the victory for themselves as well as their country. It is as Di Maria previously said that they want to be remembered as legends well now the murals all over Argentina will make them “Gods” who brought back the prestige. Well as for these “Gods”, they are more human than we can imagine as the highlight of the game for me was when Messi consoled his friend and ex-teammate Neymar for his loss and if you are a football fanatic you will agree with me that it was the most emotional moment of all.

Leo Messi consoling his friend Neymar

Argentina

Emiliano Martinez, Otamendi, Acuna, Montiel, Romero, De Paul, Paredes, Lo Celso, Messi, Di Maria, Lautaro Martinez

Subs Marchesin, Armani, Tagliafico, Pezzella, Molina, Lisandro Martinez, Gomez, Angel Correa, Rodriguez, Palacios, Aguero, Gonzalez

Brazil

Ederson, Thiago Silva, Danilo, Marquinhos, Renan Lodi, Casemiro, Fred, Everton, Lucas Paqueta, Richarlison, Neymar

Subs Weverton, Alisson, Alex Sandro, Emerson, Leo Ortiz, Eder Militao, Everton Ribeiro, Fabinho, Douglas Luiz, Firmino, Gabriel Barbosa, Vinicius Junior

Referee Esteban Ostojich (Uruguay)

Player of the Match: Angel Di Maria

Player of the tournament: Lionel Messi

The player with the most number of goals in the tournament: Lionel Messi

Goalkeeper of the tournament: Emiliano Martinez