‘Messi, Messi,’ chanted the Levi’s Stadium, after Ever Banega put Argentina two goals up. They should have been chanting for Angel di Maria.
With Barcelona’s No 10 sidelined, all the discussion before the game surrounded whether Nicolas Gaitan would be able to replace him, but it was the PSG winger who stood up and shouldered the weight.
His dazzling display helped Argentina gain some semblance of revenge for their defeat in last year’s Copa America final by Chile, scoring the opener and setting up Banega for the second.
Angel di Maria pictured during an emotional post-match interview as he discussed his grandmother
Di Maria made a touching tribute to his grandmother who died shortly before their Copa America clash
Di Maria posted this on Instagram before the game and wrote: ‘Cute little old lady, rest in peace next to your old man. Thanks for letting me inherit these values, took with my head held high. I love you with all my heart!’
Di Maria is handed a shirt with the message ‘Granny, I will miss you so much’ written on the front of it
Di Maria celebrates his goal against Chile by paying tribute to his grandmother, who died before the match
The Paris Saint-Germain star celebrates after giving Argentina the lead against Chile in Santa Clara
Di Maria is mobbed by his team-mates after beating Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo at his near post
Chile’s Gary Medel couldn’t prevent Di Maria giving Argentina a deserved lead early in the second period
Argentina: Romero 5, Mercado 6, Otamendi 6, Funes Mori 5.5, Rojo 5, Mascherano 5.5, Augusto Fernandez 5.5, Banega 8.5, Gaitan 8 (Kranevitter 87), Higuain 6 (Aguero 73), Di Maria 9 (Lamela 80)
Booked: Di Maria, Rojo
Goals: Di Maria 51, Banega 59
Chile: Bravo 5, Isla 5, Medel 5, Jara 5.5, Mena 5 (Orellana 53, 5.5), Aranguiz 6 (Fuenzalida 82), Diaz 6, Vidal 5.5, Sanchez 6, Vargas 5 (Pinilla 68), Beausejour 5
Booked: Vidal, Isla, Medel
Goal: Fuenzalida 90
*Player ratings by RIK SHARMA at Levi’s Stadium
In an interview after the game Di Maria cried, thanking his mother and his aunt for their support – his grandmother had died in the hours before the game.
He paid tribute to her with a message on his shirt revealed after his goal. ‘Granny, I will miss you so much.’
‘I wanted to play, my grandmother was so proud that I played for the national team,’ he said on television, in tears, after being awarded the man of the match award.
The first half had been high-velocity and hot-tempered, in many ways a classic South America clash, on North American soil.
With Messi out of the picture, Gaitan began in his position and nearly helped Argentina to the perfect start. Di Maria supplied a perfectly flighted ball from the right and the Benfica midfielder’s header clipped the top of the crossbar.
Ever Banega fired Argentina into a 2-0 lead in the 59th minute after receiving a pass from Di Maria
Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo dives low to his right but he couldn’t keep out Banega’s deflected strike
Banega, Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain enjoy a group hug after the midfielder’s goal made it 2-0 on the night
The next chance of the game fell to Di Maria, whose snatched shot from the left wing flew wide of the right-hand post. Argentina were on top, but Chile were mostly containing them well.
Arturo Vidal went into the book for a needless, aggressive hack on Gaitan, perhaps giving him the treatment Messi would have had if he had been on the pitch. It’s become something of a trademark for the Bayern Munich man, who sometimes struggles to contain himself on the big occasions.
Argentina continued to press and in-form Napoli star Gonzalo Higuain’s flicked effort was deflected wide, with Marcos Rojo heading the resulting corner inches past the far post.
Despite the pressure from Argentina, the best chance of the first half fell to Chile. Ramiro Funes Mori’s mistake was nearly capitalised on, but Alexis Sanchez’s effort from 18 yards was too close to Sergio Romero, who made a stunning save to deny the Arsenal forward.
Sanchez went close again three minutes later, whipping a free-kick towards the top corner, but the Manchester United goalkeeper denied him a second time.
Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal is shown a yellow card after hacking down Argentina winger Nicolas Gaitan
Lionel Messi (fourth from left) was forced to watch on from the bench as he recovers from a back injury
Chile forward Alexis Sanchez attempts to hold on to the ball under pressure from Di Maria (left)
Napoli forward Higuain looks frustrated as he jumps over Bravo after watching the keeper claim the ball
Gabriel Mercado slashed a volley over the crossbar before the interval, and the troublesome Gaitan was targeted before the stoke of half-time, with Mauricio Isla going into the book for dragging him down.
Argentina came out flying in the second half and it took just six minutes to open the scoring. Banega drove through the middle before playing the former Red Devil in down the left, and he fired low past Claudio Bravo at his near post.
It was a well-taken goal for a player who has sometimes flattered to deceive for Argentina. Not tonight, though.
Di Maria turned provider for the second goal, working his way through Chile’s defence and feeding Banega, who fired past Bravo at his near post, this time with the aid of a small deflection.
When he was withdrawn with 10 minutes to go the crowd offered him hearty applause, but the thirst to see Messi was not quenched. They still bayed for Argentina’s star man, but when Matias Krannevitter came on for Gaitan, there were grumbles and some started to shuffle out.
Jose Fuenzalida heads into an empty net in added time after some poor goalkeeping from Sergio Romero
Fuenzalida celebrates his goal with team-mate Mauricio Isla but Chile had no time to find an equaliser
Even when Di Maria was announced as man of the match, the chant went on – ‘Messi, Messi’. It will be the same on Friday night when they face Panama in their next game, whether the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is playing or not.
It was a near perfect second-half display by Argentina, but it was tainted in stoppage time at the end when Romero came for a ball that he shouldn’t have, and substitute Jose Fuenzalida headed into the empty net.
That’s something for Tata Martino to work on, but he will be thrilled by how lively Di Maria was on the left and how his team vanquished Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side in the second period after they put in a stubborn display in the first half.
Argentina came into the Copa America Centenario as favourites because of Messi, but without him they continue holding that title.