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SPORTS | 10-07-2024 15:04

Argentina's old masters lead way to Copa América final

Lionel Messi and Ángel Di María are enjoying every minute of what could be their international farewell. But thankfully, this Argentina team remains so resilient as to absorb almost any departure, even those two legends.

It is beginning to feel almost routine. By way of a 2-0 victory over Canada on Tuesday Argentina booked their place in the Copa América, the third straight tournament in which they have gone all the way to the deciding match. 

Indeed, going even further back, since 2014 and that memorable World Cup campaign the Albiceleste have played the final in six of the eight tournaments they have disputed, a phenomenal record which features one special player at the centre of it all.

Actually, make that two.

For even if Lionel Messi finally broke his duck at this Copa to put the game out of reach for a valiant yet physically sapped Canada team, this was Ángel Di María's night. The evergreen winger has been at Leo's side across the last decade and a half – the good, the bad and the ugly – and was rewarded with a spectacular standing ovation as he left the field for Nicolás González in the second half to draw the curtain on what might be his penultimate game in Argentina colours.

At 36, a year Messi's junior, it is difficult to overstate just how important Di María remains to this team. While the captain, mindful of his advancing years and recent setbacks, practises extreme physical moderation on the field, Fideo continues to bomb up and down the wing with the energy of a fresh-faced teenage debutant.

His presence – sorely missed against Ecuador in the last round – proved key to breaking down this year's Copa surprise package. Di María's movements constantly kept Canada on edge, preventing the lethal Alphonso Davies from running free on the left. His interventions provided most of the attacking spark in a team that is still looking for its best football even as it prepares for the final. If this tournament is the end, as Di María himself has hinted, he will leave a gap in the side which will not be easy to fill.

Thankfully, this team remains so resilient as to absorb almost any departure, even those two legends.

In midfield Rodrigo De Paul and Enzo Fernández were masterful and provided assists for Argentina's two goals, with the latter's improvement all the more encouraging after a difficult second season with Chelsea. 

De Paul helped get Argentina off the mark with a stunning pass which was finished with equal aplomb by Julián Álvarez, proving once again that he thrives on the biggest stage. 

Further back, meanwhile, Cristian Romero and Lisandro Martínez are making a case as the best defensive partnership anywhere in international football; while Emiliano Martínez is, well, Dibu, still.

All of those players will be in their prime for 2026, as will the likes of Alexis Mac Allister, Lautaro Martínez, Alejandro Garnacho and other stars, leaving the future in safe hands. 

For the present, the biggest challenge is yet to come, with either Uruguay or Colombia posing a formidable hurdle to Lionel Scaloni's fourth trophy in barely three years. But with confidence running sky-high and Argentina's old masters still capable of reaching back when it most counts, it is easy to imagine yet another triumphant lap of honour once Sunday's final comes to a close. 

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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