"Anyone who believes that he is not going to suffer is wrong" – the words of Argentina’s national team coach Lionel Scaloni last Tuesday, after the Albiceleste had squeezed into the Copa América 2021 final after defeating Colombia 3-2 on penalties.
The 43-year-old was not only referring to the agonising last few minutes of shoot-out drama – Argentina took the lead just six minutes into the match and led until a dramatic equaliser in the 60th minute. Pressure ran high at all times and the players suffered in their victory.
Is this an Argentine thing? Or is it just fate’s bill for granting the country the magic of Lionel Messi?
The national team has suffered throughout the Copa – sometimes controlling matches, before minutes later, finding themselves being controlled by their opponents. At all times, however, Messi has led the resistance, popping up with decisive contributions.
Suffering is becoming a habit for Argentina. In the six games they’ve played in the tournament so far, the Albiceleste have scored eight of their 11 goals in the first half. Score – and then suffer.
Speaking after the semi-final clash, Scaloni warned spectators that more lies ahead. "Whoever is not prepared to suffer, from now on I tell him that it will be [like this], that this is high-level competition," he excitedly told reporters.
The suffering has not been limited to Argentina during the tournament. A memorable clash between Peru and Paraguay in the quarter-finals also went to penalties, as did Colombia and Uruguay’s match at the same stage. Even favourites Brazil have had their moments, seeing off Peru 1-0 in the other semi-final by the slimmest of margins.
Argentina’s suffering, however, has taken on another form. In what one pundit dubbed a “registered trademark,” matches involving the national team have taken on a familiar form. Dominant in possession and chance creation in the first half, the side tends to drop deeper in the second, failing to dominate the ball. In the quarter-final clash with Ecuador, for example, not even a 3-0 victory could break that template.
"This Copa América has very different conditions: the games are all tight, played beyond the limist, "he said.
"Whoever thinks that Argentina is going to win every game 3-0 easily is wrong. And neither do the others," he added.
Journalist Juan Pablo Varsky offered his take in the La Nación newspaper: "The rival also plays (...) No team dominates always. All games have moments of adversity where the rival imposes the conditions. Knowing how to suffer, that's what it is about."
That’s why, for example, Scaloni has sought to make second-half adjustments to his team, giving the team much-needed fresh legs. In recent matches, winger Ángel Di María has provided that, offering oxygen and energy in several games late-on.
Of course, for Argentina’s fans, suffering is nothing new. Their last four Copa América finals have been lost: in Peru in 2004, Venezuela in 2007, Chile in 2015 and in the United States in 2016. Three of those defeats come with Messi in the line-up. Add in the World Cup final defeat to Germany in 2014 and some fans could be excused for thinking the country is cursed.
Argentines, however, are nothing if not resilient. The players are confident that they have what it takes and that they can end 28 years of waiting in the Maracanã on Saturday night.
"To make history you have to know how to suffer and we are prepared," wrote midfielder Rodrigo De Paul in a post on social media.
Don’t cut those fingernails – we’re going to need them.
Rio to allow 7,800 fans to attend final
Rio de Janeiro, one of the Brazilian cities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, on Friday gave the go-ahead for thousands of fans to attend Saturday's Copa América final against Argentina at the Maracanã stadium.
The city has decided to allow a crowd of up to 7,800 people – 10 percent of the stadium's full capacity of 78,000.
This would make it the first match in the 2021 Copa, South America's largest international football tournament, with fans in the stands.