Argentina returned to Brazil with the intention of winning the trophy, but their start to Copa America was disappointing. It was Chile again who cut short their celebration after Lionel Messi scored from the free-kick by sharing points.

Lionel Scaloni led Argentina into a major tournament for the first time since replacing Jorge Sampaoli after the 2018 World Cup. As ever, the former assistant could call upon the irrepressible Lionel Messi, who will hope this is the year he finally landed his first senior international honour.

Messi would receive support from Lautaro Martinez and Nicolas Gonzalez, while Nicolas Otamendi anchoring the defence and Emiliano Martinez won just his third cap in goal.

It was also Chile’s first tournament under the stewardship of recently appointed Martin Lasarte. For the group stage at least, he would have to make do without talisman Alexis Sanchez, who has been ruled out with a foot injury.

Internacional striker Carlos Palacios leads the line in his absence with support from Jean Meneses and veteran Eduardo Vargas. It was a highly experienced starting line-up that also featured four of the country’s five most-capped players in Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel, Mauricio Isla and Arturo Vidal.

It was the fourth consecutive Copa America in which these two nations lock horns. Chile famously prevailed on penalties in the final of the 2015 and 2016 editions, but Argentina won when they faced off in the third-place play-off two years ago.

Messi curled a superb free-kick into the corner of Claudio Bravo’s net from 25 metres after 33 minutes.

Chile equalised 13 minutes into the second half when Vargas followed up to head home the rebound after Arturo Vidal’s penalty was tipped onto the bar by Emiliano Martinez.

Messi continued to create opportunities until the end of the match, but his teammates showed the same difficulty to deliver goals as they did in the 2-2 draw at Colombia in a World Cup qualifier in Barranquilla last week.

The game was played in a deserted Nilton Santos stadium, the site of the track and field events at the 2016 Olympic Games, with both sides getting bogged down on a poor pitch.

Argentina forward Nicolas Gonzalez has shouldered the blame for dropping points telling reporters he “failed a lot” in the match, while Lionel Messi lamented a “complicated” game.

Indeed, Gonzalez headed a perfect over-the-top pass from Messi over the bar when he had only the goalkeeper to beat in the 80th minute. But he was far from the only Argentina player to be wasteful as they could only convert one of their 18 shots on the night.

“I am self-critical, today I have failed a lot,” Gonzalez said.

“We must be much finer [around the net]. I’m going to be angry but happy for some of the positives we showed today.”

“We had a lot of goal situations. We entered a little asleep in the second half but later we were able to [evolve].”

However, head coach Lionel Scaloni says he was pleased with the number of chances created as he backed his team to finish those chances as they get sharper as the tournament goes.

“I would be worried if the team did not generate goal situations,” he said.

“The important thing is that we do it, we put many players in the area.”

He added, “We have a very rich squad. All the footballers who are here can play, that’s why they came.”

“The game was complicated,” Messi said.

“We lacked calmness, having control of the ball and playing faster. The penalty changed the game.”

“We wanted to start winning. Now we have Uruguay, which is also going to be difficult. But hey, we have to think about the next match now.”


In other news, Brazil’s Ministry of Health said on Monday that 31 players and delegation members had tested positive for COVID-19 by Sunday, the first day of the 10-nation tournament. The news comes amid widespread criticism of Conmebol’s decision to move the tournament to Brazil at short notice.

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