Sports Mole previews the Copa America third place playoff between Argentina and Chile, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
Argentina and Chile will do battle in the latter stages of the Copa America yet again on Saturday, although this time they will be competing for third place rather than the trophy itself.
It is a fixture which has been the final of the last two editions of this tournament, but both lost to bitter rivals in the semis to find themselves condemned to the third place playoff.
Few nations have been forced to suffer through as much international heartache as Argentina in recent years, and there was more in store for them at the hands of their greatest rivals in the semi-finals.
A 2-0 defeat to host nation Brazil ended their hopes of making it through to the final for a fifth time in the past six editions of the Copa America, although they finished as runners-up on all four of the previous occasions in that run.
Ironically, Argentina’s most telling defeat of a largely underwhelming campaign came in the match where they produced their best football.
The two-goal margin of victory flattered Brazil, and Argentina looked increasingly capable of equalising until Gabriel Jesus set up Roberto Firmino for the killer second – a role reversal of the goal which had broken the deadlock.
If Lionel Scaloni‘s side felt the scoreline was unfair, they had even stronger opinions on the reasons behind it and have submitted a six-page document officially complaining about referee Roddy Zambrano‘s performance.
The Ecuadorian official certainly seemed a low-profile choice for such a high-profile game, and in a tournament where VAR has had such a major part to play it was noticeable that a few decisions did not seem to be looked at by the video officials.
Confirmation that there were problems with the communications between the referee and the VAR team prior to the match will not have lessened Argentina’s sense of injustice, although CONMEBOL have since insisted that those issues were solved and had no bearing on the contest.
Once the dust has settled there will be positives to take for Argentina, though; Scaloni’s side were far from their best for much of the tournament, but there were members of the next generation who impressed and it looks as though talisman Lionel Messi will stick around to lead them too.
There were fears the five-time Ballon d’Or winner would retire from international football for a third and final time after this latest setback, but signs now point to him delaying that until at least next summer, when Argentina will host another Copa America.
By his own admission Messi has not hit his usual heights during this tournament – failing to provide a single goal or assist from open play – and whether he is called upon for what is essentially a dead-rubber on Saturday remains to be seen.
The match could be a chance for 21-year-old Lautaro Martinez to stake his claim for the Golden Boot, though, as one of 13 players currently level on two goals at the tournament.
Recent Copa America form: LDWWL
Recent form (all competitions): WLDWWL
History beckoned for Chile ahead of their semi-final against Peru, with just 90 minutes separating them from having the chance to become only the second nation to win three Copa America titles in a row.
Champions in 2015 and 2016, having never lifted the trophy before that, La Roja went into the match as favourites only to be soundly beaten by a side that had not reached the final of the competition since 1975.
Goals from Edison Flores, Yoshimar Yotun and Paolo Guerrero forced Chile to give up their South American crown against a team with whom they have a bitter history on and off the field, having also missed out on World Cup qualification last year.
A combative performance against an in-form Colombia side in the quarter-finals hinted at the Chile of old, but the nature of their latest defeat could mean that this is the last we see of an ageing squad which contains no fewer than six players with more than 100 caps.
Alexis Sanchez has been the jewel in that crown and began the tournament well with two goals in the opening two matches before scoring the winning penalty in the shootout with Colombia.
However, the Manchester United man and his Chile teammates have since lost their way in front of goal, and the Peru defeat was a third consecutive match in which they have failed to score in normal time – their longest drought in almost two years.
Recent glories should not obscure the fact that reaching the semi-finals is still a notable achievement for Chile, though; prior to their first Copa America crown in 2015, La Roja had only made it this far in one of the previous eight tournaments, stretching back 24 years.
Reinaldo Rueda‘s side will also be acutely aware that they have the psychological edge over Argentina following their back-to-back final wins over La Albiceleste in 2015 and 2016 – both via penalties after goalless draws.
Trying to keep their opponents at bay again may be their best hope of toppling Messi and co once more, but this time there is a far less appealing prize at the end of the road.
Recent Copa America form: WWLWL
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLWL
Whether Messi graces the third-place playoff or not remains to be seen, but Scaloni could choose to hand his talisman a rest with one eye on the 2019-20 season with Barcelona.
There are no shortage of players ready to step up should the main man be rested, with Paulo Dybala yet to make a single start at this summer’s tournament and Angel di Maria also champing at the bit.
Giovani Lo Celso joined that superstar duo in coming off the bench against Brazil and could be in line for a start on Saturday, while Martinez is likely to keep his place with one eye on the Golden Boot.
Scaloni must also decide whether to rest more of the old guard – including Manchester City duo Nicolas Otamendi and Sergio Aguero – as he begins to usher in a new generation of players.
Chile could do with blooding some youngsters of their own in a squad that has 11 players over the age of 30, although wholesale changes are less likely for them.
Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas will both no doubt be pushing for starts given that they are also on two goals apiece and in with a shout of being crowned the tournament’s top scorer.
Jose Fuenzalida was taken off at half time against Peru and could be one of the players to lose his starting place for this match.
Argentina possible starting lineup:
Armani; Saravia, Funes Mori, Foyth, Tagliafico; Lo Celso, Paredes, Di Maria; Dybala; Martinez, Suarez
Chile possible starting lineup:
Arias; Isla, Medel, Maripan, Beausejour; Aranguiz, Pulgar, Vidal; Sagal, Vargas, Sanchez
Head To Head
Chile may have beaten Argentina in the last two Copa America finals, but it is La Albiceleste who dominate the history between these two nations.
Indeed, Argentina have won 60 of the 90 past meetings across all competitions, compared to only eight wins for Chile.
Inside normal time Chile have only won one of the last 33 meetings between the two sides in a run which stretches back to 1973.
We say: Argentina 1-0 Chile
This is a very difficult match to call considering the changes that are likely to be made to both teams. Argentina have not had the best tournament, but they seem to be on an upward trajectory whereas Chile have struggled more as the competition has progressed. Even without Messi, we are tipping Argentina to edge it.