Messi free-kick earns draw with Chile in Copa America 2021

Messi at South America's Copa America
Messi at South America's Copa America

Lionel Messi scored a beautiful free-kick goal at the 33rd minute of Argentina’s Copa America 2021 Group A opener with Chile, but Edu Vargas equalized with a rebound header off of an Emiliano Martinez save of Arturo Vidal’s penalty kick at the 57th. The 1-1 draw marked the second such result between the South American sides in less than a year and follows their two famous draws in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals, both won by Chile.

The Argentines had the greater number of chances, but Chile has the Albiceleste’s number and as La Roja has done for over seven years now, they came back and took control of the second half, first on offense until they obtained the draw, then on defense as they opted to protect their earned point. For many on the pitch, it was a reunion of sorts as each team fielded most of the players who had participated in their famous previous encounters, save Chile’s top scorer, Alexis Sanchez, who is nursing an injured foot but expected back in the latter stages of the South American tourney.

So, what does this draw portend? It foreshadows the potential results in the other classic matches to come. Chile is back! Argentina is playing well! Colombia and Brazil did enough to win their games while not at their best, and the latter is the tourney’s top goal-scoring team. [Later in the evening, Paraguay also shook off the pandemic rust to show they are poised to be spoilers.] Now we need to see Peru and Uruguay perform, but as of this writing, the top teams and those who could change the course of South America’s continental competition seem mostly ready for action from the get-go.

Paraguay 3-1 Bolivia

Putting in a valiant if rugged resistance Bolivia pulled a goal ahead at the 10th minute of their opening Copa America 2021 Group B match against favored Paraguay. Erwin Saavedra converting a penalty for La Verde. But the match had the feel of inevitability as the Paraguayans seemed more out of synch in the final quarter of the pitch than out of rhythm or control throughout the other three-quarters. But at the 45+9 minute of what became a chippy match, Bolivia’s Jaume Cuellar got a red card, and the match transformed.

The consistent Paraguayan pressure in the second half finally broke the Bolivian resolve at the 62nd minute when Alejandro Romero drew the teams even. Five minutes later Angel Romero put the Guaranies ahead for keeps. As if to underline the real difference in quality between the teams, Romero earned a brace at the 80th minute for the 3-1 win. Paraguay now lead the group as the only winner of the early stages of the South American tournament.

ESPN scripted commentary

It has been troubling to note the one-sided commentary, almost seemingly scripted, coming from ESPN’s on-air folks throughout the Euro 2020 and Copa America 2021 competitions. Perhaps it was a matter of inexperience in covering such a great couple of global tourneys—certainly, the lack of consistent instant replays and at times poor angles or lighting when the pitch lay in shadows, lent a feel of a not quite ready for prime-time production, but the commentators were the weak link.

During the England-Croatia match, one was hard put to learn who England was playing as all commentary, at half-time and post-match, centered exclusively on “Southgate’s lads.” The fortunate win, by a single score, was spoken about in such laudatory terms one might have thought England had just won some trophy.

Similarly, while covering South America’s premier soccer event, we heard Lionel Messi’s entire career history provided throughout Argentina’s match with Chile, regardless of the action on the pitch. We also heard that in his opinion the announcer thought “Lio was the GOAT.” Each time Messi’s team seemed poised for a scoring chance the excitement in the announcers’ voices betrayed their allegiances when compared to the routine tone and volume dedicated to any Chilean goal-scoring opportunity.

At match’s end it was not a Chilean accomplishment over their favored rivals which was commented on but the disappointment Messi and company might feel at not having started the tourney with a win, particularly after having claimed after Argentina’s early goal that “Messi had responded, and gone one better, to Neymar” in what will be “a tennis match between them to see who can outdo the other and lead their team to glory.”

It will be interesting to see how the coverage progresses from here on in.

 

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