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Lionel Messi vs Alexis Sanchez: The Argentina and Chile stars of Copa America final 2016

Alexis Sanchez’s cheeky Panenka penalty won Chile the Copa America in 2015, denying Lionel Messi and Argentina the trophy they so desperately craved after a 22-year drought, which has now become 23. 

This Sunday night, in the Copa America Centenario final, the pair are ready to go head-to-head again.

The Arsenal man failed to get the better of his Barcelona counterpart when their two teams clashed in the Champions League last season, but who will come out on top this time around?

Sportsmail assesses the two stars ahead of the final…

A year on after they met in the last Copa America final, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi will do battle again

Messi and Sanchez will lead their teams into the Copa America final as their respective stand-out stars

Messi and Sanchez will lead their teams into the Copa America final as their respective stand-out stars

Once team-mates at Barcelona, the pair are their countries' respective talisman in international football

Once team-mates at Barcelona, the pair are their countries’ respective talisman in international football

MESSI VS SANCHEZ AT COPA AMERICA CENTENARIO 
Messi Copa America 2016 Sanchez
4 Appearances 5
254 Minutes Played 450
5 Goals Scored 3
50.8 Minutes per Goal 150
8 Shots On Target 12
6 Shots Off Target 3
0 Blocked Shots 3
57.14 Shooting Accuracy 80
4 Assists 2
6 Chances Created (inc assists) 14
158 Total Passes Made 203
82.91 Pass Accuracy 74.38

Copa America Centenario performances

Both players are flying. This has been Lionel Messi’s tournament. He missed the first game against Chile but returned as a substitute in the next one, scoring a 19-minute hat-trick and setting up Sergio Aguero for a goal.

He enjoyed another entertaining cameo against Bolivia, before helping Argentina beat Venezuela in the quarter-finals, with a goal and two assists, before doing the same again in the semi-final victory over the USA.

Having taken his recovery slowly, from the back-injury he sustained before the tournament, Messi is finding his best form ahead of the final. He has wowed the crowds and everything he touches seems to turn to gold.

Sanchez too is improving as the event goes on. After a no-show against Argentina, where he wasted a good chance which Sergio Romero saved well, he also struggled against Bolivia, with Arturo Vidal saving the day.

However, he notched a brace against Panama in the final group game and sparkled against Mexico, scoring again and leading the defence on a merry dance throughout, with his strike partner Eduardo Vargas capitalising by scoring a hat-trick.

In the Colombia semi-final his shot came back off the post and it was turned home by Jose Fuenzalida to help his team win the game.

Messi 9, Sanchez 8

After missing the first game against Chile, Messi has returned to make this tournament his own

After missing the first game against Chile, Messi has returned to make this tournament his own

Having taken his recovery from a back injury slowly, Messi is finding his best form ahead of the final

Having taken his recovery from a back injury slowly, Messi is finding his best form ahead of the final

Sanchez too is improving as the event goes on, with three goals and two assists for Chile so far

Sanchez too is improving as the event goes on, with three goals and two assists for Chile so far

International pedigree

Messi’s thunderous, gravity-defying free-kick against the USA saw him become Argentina’s top goalscorer, with 55, nudging ahead of Gabriel Batistuta who had 54.

The Barcelona No 10 is his country’s best player by some distance, although has never won a major trophy with them. The last time Argentina won the Copa America was in 1993.

In the 2014 World Cup final Messi was not at his best, although still managed to create a good chance for Gonzalo Higuain, which was wasted. He was also far below his usual standards in the 2015 Copa final, failing to take a shot in the entire game.

However, it should be noted that he played a big part in hauling his country to those two finals.

Despite leading his team to two major finals in two years, Messi has still never won an international tournament

Despite leading his team to two major finals in two years, Messi has still never won an international tournament

Alexis, meanwhile, has equalled Ivan Zamorano as Chile’s second top goalscorer, with 34 strikes. Just three more would see him level Marcelo Salas, who is currently top, on 37 goals, although he has more caps than either of those two stars.

Sanchez won Chile the Copa on home soil last year when he dinked home the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Argentina and his performances in that tournament were impressive.

Messi 8, Sanchez 8

Sanchez wheels away after netting the winning penalty against Argentina in last year's final

Sanchez wheels away after netting the winning penalty against Argentina in last year’s final

Fan feelings

When Sanchez gets on the ball, Chile fans stand up. When Messi gets on the ball, everybody stands up. Stadiums have been packed to see the Argentine star at this tournament, with fans chanting his name relentlessly.

However, ask your average Argentine and there’s a good chance he’d tell you that he prefers Diego Maradona to Lionel Messi. 

The Barcelona man isn’t adored by all fans of his country, because many don’t feel he is a man of the people. Having lived in Spain much of his life, the connection is not as strong as with the likes of Carlos Tevez.

Messi's name has been chanted relentlessly, but he is not quite as adored of some of his country's other stars

Messi’s name has been chanted relentlessly, but he is not quite as adored of some of his country’s other stars

Messi fired a message to the ungrateful fans after the last Copa, telling them to f*** themselves if they couldn’t understand that reaching two finals in two years was a good achievement.

Sanchez, meanwhile, is loved by Chile fans although not in the same way as Vidal, for similar reasons. 

Alexis is a superstar, whereas the Bayern Munich man seems a little closer to home, still visiting a racetrack near his home in Santiago when he gets the chance.

Messi 7, Sanchez 7

Team influence

Sanchez is loved by Chile fans, but is not seen as a man of the people in the way some of his team-mates are

Sanchez is loved by Chile fans, but is not seen as a man of the people in the way some of his team-mates are

Messi is Argentina. Of course, having players like Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega in support is extremely helpful, but virtually every attacking move that the Albiceleste put together involves Messi at some juncture – usually a crucial one.

Like at Barcelona, he starts on the right, but the forward is allowed to roam wherever he likes to get the ball. Often that’s the middle of the pitch, a position which allows him to decide if the best thing to do is surge forward or release a team-mate.

The instructions tend to be to give the ball to Messi, if he is free, and sometimes even if he isn’t.

For Argentina, the instructions tend to be to give the ball to Messi, if he is free, and sometimes even if he isn't

For Argentina, the instructions tend to be to give the ball to Messi, if he is free, and sometimes even if he isn’t

Sanchez, meanwhile, nominally starts on the left for Chile, but like Messi has freedom to play where he likes. Vargas is a more orthodox central striker but it’s no surprise to see Sanchez pop up alongside him, or on either flank.

He is also used as an outlet by Chile even when under pressure, because his team-mates back him to get out of tough situations with his strong dribbling and technique. 

However, he’s more of a cog in the system than Messi is, one of various Red Arrows flying around the penalty area.

Messi 9, Sanchez 8

Sanchez is also crucial to the way Chile play, but his influence is not as marked as Messi's

Sanchez is also crucial to the way Chile play, but his influence is not as marked as Messi’s

Record of success

Although Sanchez’s Chile beat Messi to the trophy last year, the latter has by far the better overall record. He is a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, for one, while Sanchez was sold after failing to shine consistently in a Barcelona team which Messi effectively ran.

At Arsenal he is a big fish in a medium-sized pond, and across the two players’ careers there is no contest over who has the better record. 

As well as a bulging honours list that boasts eight league titles and four Champions Leagues, Messi has set a number of club goalscoring records too, including being Barcelona’s all-time leader in goals.

Messi with the Champions League trophy in 2015

Messi has a pedigree that is unrivaled by any other player, with individual and team awards 

Alexis has four league titles to his name, although three of those came in South America and the other with Messi running the show at Barcelona, while he has never won the Champions League. However, he can wield that Copa America win in his favour.

Messi 10, Sanchez 7.

Overall ratings: Messi 43/50 Sanchez 38/50 

Sanchez helped lead his team to glory in their home tournament, and has starred again at this edition

Sanchez helped lead his team to glory in their home tournament, and has starred again at this edition

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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