The atmosphere at Levi’s Stadium on Monday ahead of Argentina vs. Chile was excellent—lots of singing, chanting, and team colors. The crowd seemed about evenly divided between Argentina and Chile fans, with plenty of Barcelona Messi shirts thrown in. Of course, Lionel Messi did not play on the night, but that didn’t stop his adoring faithful from assembling to cheer for him. They simply directed their love to the dugout, where he sat with a reddish beard and enjoyed the show.
It was a lovely evening and sunset in Santa Clara and I reported live on Twitter from the press box. It was, by all standards, a decent show. Both South American sides featured plenty of world-quality players, so even those who had no stake in a country winning could enjoy high quality football.
Fans saw Manchester United’s Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero (who was put in late in the second half), Paris Saint-Germain’s Angel DiMaria, Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano, Benfica’s Nicolas Gaitan who put in a solid performance, and Atletico Madrid’s Matias Kranevitter (who came on late in the second half).
On the Chile side, Barcelona’s star goalie Claudio Bravo was in goal, Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, and perhaps most notably, Gonzalo Jara of Univ. De Chile. Monday was Jara’s first Copa match since last year’s quarter finals, when he stuck his thumb in Edison Cavani’s rear end, and was rewarded with an elbow in the face for his efforts. Cavani was sent off for his part and subsequently saw a two-match ban.
Jara was well-behaved on Monday.
The first half was a bit less intense than perhaps expected, with Chile looking faster and more agile, if a bit less disciplined (two yellow cards were awarded in the first half, both to Chile; usual suspect Arturo Vidal earned one while Mauricio Isla saw the other). The only problem? Argentina was simply more skilled.
The second half saw a gorgeous set up from Ever Banega to DiMaria, which opened the scoring to Argentina 1-0 Chile. A bit later, the duo performed again but in reverse, with DiMaria providing service to Banega to make it 2-0. The partnership between these two is a beautiful thing and there was little opposition to their organization for both goals.
Afterwards, Argentinian coach Tata was asked if he thought his squad could win Copa without Messi. Tata answered in Spanish and as my Spanish is less than perfect, I couldn’t decipher his reply. However, the answer, without being clouded by coach-speak or respect for Messi, is a simple yes. The DiMaria-Banega partnership was illustrated clearly and cleanly on the night, and Messi isn’t known for his stellar international contributions.
That said, fans across the country will be eager for him to see minutes. Argentina next plays Panama on June 10 in Chicago. My bet is that Messi will most certainly see some minutes there.
I will see you next Monday, live in the press box on Twitter for Uruguay vs. Jamaica.