Paraguay booked their spot in the Copa America quarter-finals after comfortably accounting for a lacklustre Chile 2-0 on Thursday.

Goals from Braian Samudio and Miguel Almiron saw Paraguay upstage two-time champions Chile in their penultimate Group A fixture in Brasilia en route to the knockout round.

Samudio's maiden international goal gave Paraguay a 33rd-minute lead at Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, before Almiron converted a penalty 13 minutes into the second half.

Chile were aiming to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte having won three and drawn three of the six matches since his appointment, while trying to put some pressure on Group A leaders Argentina.

But Chile struggled from the outset, recording just one tame shot on target throughout against Paraguay, with Eduardo Vargas and Ben Brereton bystanders in a forgettable outing.

Paraguay looked the more likely to score and forward Samudio broke the deadlock just past the half-hour mark – the 25-year-old rising highest to beat two defenders as his thumping header from Almiron's corner beat Claudio Bravo.

Carlos Gonzalez went close to doubling Paraguay's lead four minutes before half-time, however, his header in an unmarked situation went wide of the post in a big let-off for Bravo and Chile.

Paraguay did not have to wait long for their second goal after Chile veteran Gary Medel was penalised for a foul on Gonzalez in the 55th minute, with Newcastle United's Almiron stepping up to score the spot-kick.

Arturo Vidal led passionate appeals for a Chile penalty amid calls for a handball against Paraguay with 14 minutes remaining, but their protests fell on deaf ears, even after a VAR review.

That was the closest Chile came to scoring, with La Roja offering next to nothing in attack on a frustrating evening.

The gloss was taken off Paraguay's victory after substitute Antonio Bareiro left the field crying uncontrollably on a stretcher following what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

Chile will aim to maintain their unbeaten start under head coach Martin Lasarte and put some pressure on Copa America Group A leaders Argentina when they face Paraguay on Thursday.

La Roja have won three and drawn three of their six matches since experienced coach Lasarte replaced Reinaldo Rueda in February.

That includes 1-1 draws against Argentina and Uruguay, either side of a 1-0 win against Bolivia, to leave them second in their Copa America group with one game to go.

Chile are assured of a place in the knockout stages, but Lasarte is eager to avoid going through in fourth place, which would mean a quarter-final tie with favourites Brazil.

"We do not want to qualify in last place. Avoiding Brazil is key as they are the most powerful side in the tournament," he said.

"The draw against Uruguay, who have a lot of great players, was not bad. I'd have liked a win, but to draw was good."

Paraguay still have work to do if they are to progress out of the group, having followed up a 3-1 win over Bolivia in their first game with a 1-0 loss to Argentina last time out.

Papu Gomez scored the only goal of the game after 10 minutes for Argentina and Paraguay could not find a leveller, despite having more of the ball.

Los Guaranies will now be looking to overcome Chile in order to stay in the hunt for a top-four spot that would see them advance.

Head coach Eduardo Berizzo said: "We played a solid game defensively against Argentina and we have to continue with that.

"The attitude has been very good from the team and the players have given everything. We weren't rewarded for our efforts in the last game but we will try again."


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chile – Claudio Bravo

The Real Betis goalkeeper is the oldest player taking part in the Copa America at 38 years, but he is showing that age is just a number.

He has made the most saves among keepers to have played at least two games with 11 in total across three appearances (3.7 per game on average).


Paraguay – Alejandro Romero Gamarra

Gamarra has only played twice so far in this year's Copa America, yet he has created more chances than any other player in the competition (12) prior to Wednesday's games.

The prolific Al-Taawoun attacker was also on target in his side's victory over Bolivia to make it four goals in eight senior caps for Paraguay.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– Paraguay are unbeaten in their last four games against Chile on neutral soil (W2  D2).

– Chile have not conceded more than one goal in any of their six games under head coach Lasarte.

– Paraguay have the highest possession in this year's Copa America (66.8 per cent) and have created 16.5 chances per game, more than any other side.

For a period in the build-up to the 1-1 draw between Uruguay and Chile, it was anyone's guess as to whether the game would go ahead or not, with the Chilean ranks appearing to be in chaos.

While the Football Federation of Chile (FFC) accepted a group of unnamed players had broken its COVID-secure bubble by bringing a barber into the team hotel, further allegations refused to go away.

Media reports claimed there was a second breach that revolved around several women being brought into accommodation, and head coach Martin Lasarte was apparently considering resigning over the matter.

It didn't stop there. The Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) is said to have asked CONMEBOL to check security footage from the hotel to see if there was only the one breach, seemingly in the hope of being awarded the three points in the event of major sanctions.

As it was, three of the Chile players allegedly involved were named in the starting XI in Cuiaba, and perhaps it was predictable – in more than one sense – that one of them put La Roja in front.

Eduardo Vargas latched on to Ben Brereton's clever first-touch offload and burst into the right side of the penalty area. Having noticed he had no one else in support, the Atletico Mineiro forward lashed a right-footed striker beyond Fernando Muslera and into the top-left corner.

Vargas wheeled away and, just before sharing a strong embrace with Chile's unlikely new hero Brereton, the goalscorer made a 'talking' gesture with his hand, presumably showing his disapproval of the chatter surrounding he and his team-mates in the last few days.

In converting, Vargas moved above the likes of Gabriel Batistuta in the Copa America's all-time leading scorers rankings, going joint-fifth with Paolo Guerrero on 14 – the record, shared by Norberto Mendez and Zizinho with 17, is certainly within his reach.

Vargas' need to be withdrawn could play a role in that regard, however, as the 31-year-old went off just before the hour clutching the back of his thigh.

Nevertheless, his job was done to a certain extent, Vargas' goal a devastating show of clinical finishing that Uruguay just haven't seen in recent times – and not just in the Copa America.

La Celeste went into the game without scoring in their previous four games, a run that stretched back to November when Darwin Nunez netted the last in a 3-0 win over Colombia.

They were especially toothless in attack – despite the presence of talismanic duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani – in their first match against Argentina, their 0.1 xG (expected goals) a tournament-low figure only previously achieved by Venezuela (against Brazil and Colombia) in this year's competition.

In fact, at the halfway point on Monday, Suarez and Cavani had only managed one shot on target between them in 135 minutes of Copa football – that solitary accurate attempt coming in the first half in Cuiaba as Claudio Bravo made a necessary, albeit expected, block to deny the Atletico Madrid man.

Of course, a key nuance to the struggles of Uruguay's front two would be that the service to them had been underwhelming – so much so that Suarez appeared determined to try and take matters into his own hands as a cross forced the Chile defence into action just before the break, while he also played a match-high three key passes over the course of the 90 minutes.

It arguably wasn't until the inexperienced Facundo Torres – making just his fourth appearance for Uruguay – came on in the 60th minute that La Celeste started to look genuinely lively in attack, though.

The 21-year-old quickly saw a rasping volley tipped wide by Bravo, and his lovely delivery from the resulting corner was flicked on by Matias Vecino, and the ball subsequently found its way in via a combination of Suarez and Vidal, who was ultimately credited with the own goal.

While further chances came and went at either end, a stalemate felt a fitting end to a match largely lacking in real quality.

But such situations are surely a by-product of the tournament's jeopardy-sapping format, with all but two of the 10 teams involved across the two groups set to reach the quarter-finals.

 

For those in Group A, it's a case of 'do better than Bolivia and you're through' – over the course of their four games, it would be a major shock if either Uruguay were to fail in that regard, while the point here sealed Chile's route through to the next round.

The main thing here for Uruguay was to finally get a goal on the board, even if it was given to Vidal, as it should provide something of a boost to their mentality, especially after significant criticism in the wake of that defeat to Argentina.

As such, it was all hugs and smiles between the two teams at full-time, with Chile and Uruguay well aware that dropping points here won't permanently burst their Copa bubble.

Chile claimed a place in the knockout stages of the Copa America despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Uruguay.

Eduardo Vargas opened the scoring in Cuiaba, but an Arturo Vidal own goal ensured it ended honours even, a result that means Chile can no longer finish bottom of Group A.

It also helped Uruguay get off the mark after defeat to Argentina in their opener, though Oscar Tabarez's side still have work to do reach the quarter-finals of the competition.

A lively start to proceedings saw Edinson Cavani force an outstanding save from Claudio Bravo with a close-range header, only for the Chilean goalkeeper to be denied the glory by a late offside flag.

The officials also waved away Chile claims for a penalty moments later for the same reason, though Martin Lasarte's side would not be denied for long.

Vargas looked to still have plenty to do after a slick one-two with Ben Brereton had taken him into the box, but he produced a brilliant finish from a tight angle to put his team ahead.

And, though Chile subsequently lost defender Guillermo Maripan to injury, Uruguay struggled to create anything of note before the half-time break.

The second period started in a similar fashion, but Chile's hopes were dealt a further blow when Vargas limped off with an apparent hamstring issue.

Aided by a flurry of substitutes, Uruguay began to build pressure, and that told with just over 20 minutes remaining, Vidal adjudged to have got the final touch under pressure as Luis Suarez looked to turn in a Matias Vecino flick-on from a corner.

Boosted by their equaliser, Tabarez's men dominated much of the closing stages, though they were denied a first win of the tournament as an obstinate Chile defence stood firm.

What does it mean? Chile a contender

They may have been pegged back here, but Chile's unbeaten start to this tournament has been an impressive one and no team will look forward to facing them in the last eight.

As for Uruguay, they showed the combination of graft and craft that will surely see them come alive should they secure passage into the business end of the Copa America.

Brereton stands out again

This is proving to be a breakout tournament for England-born Brereton, who followed up a goal against Bolivia last time out with an assist in this one. Chile are clearly benefiting from his presence as a focal point.

Cavani fails to fire

Uruguay would have turned one point into three had Cavani followed his partner in crime Suarez onto the scoresheet, but the Manchester United striker failed to even find the target with his all three of his shots across the 90 minutes.

What's next?

Chile finish off their fixtures in the group stage against Paraguay in Brasilia on Thursday, while Uruguay contest their penultimate game against Bolivia in Cuiaba on the same day.

A group of unnamed Chile players have been fined following a breach of the Copa America's strict coronavirus protocols, the Football Federation of Chile (FFC) announced on Sunday.

Chile's preparations for Monday's clash with Uruguay have been thrown into disarray after a number of players were sanctioned for inviting a barber into their team bubble in Brazil amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Spanish news outlet Marca reported there was a further breach, with at least five players allegedly inviting several women to the team hotel.

The FFC did not confirm or address the claims in the statement released amid doubts over the future of head coach Martin Lasarte.

"The Chilean Football Federation and the coaching staff of the Chilean men's national team recognise the breach of the health bubble of the delegation that participates in the Copa America, with the unauthorised entry of a hairdresser who, despite having a PCR negative, he should not have come into contact with the players. Those involved will be financially sanctioned," the FFC said in a statement.

"We regret what caused this situation and we inform that all the members of the delegation had a negative PCR test this Saturday, June 19."

The 2021 Copa America has been plagued by issues due to the COVID-19 health crisis, having been postponed and re-located from Colombia and Argentina, with all matches played behind closed doors.

Four of the 10 teams competing at the Copa America have had players or staff test positive to COVID-19, including one Chilean delegation member last week.

The FFC did not publicly identify which players were involved in the breach relating to the hairdresser, but Chile captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo insisted they would take responsibility.

"The situation definitely affects us," he said. "We didn't train in our 'normal' conditions but we did work at the hotel.

"Those that were involved take responsibility for it and will have to deal with the consequences."

Chile – who won the Copa in 2015 and 2016, and have four points from two games – are scheduled to play Uruguay in Cuiaba on Monday.

Uruguay will need to end a barren run in front of goal if they are to topple unbeaten Chile in Copa America Group A on Monday. 

La Celeste fell 1-0 to Argentina on Friday in their tournament opener, marking the fourth consecutive game in which Uruguay were unable to find the back of the net dating back to November. 

Oscar Tabarez's side will need more from the seasoned attacking duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, who each played a relatively quiet 90 minutes against their rivals. 

Uruguay did not manage to put a shot on goal despite having the majority of the possession, and will need a better effort against a confident Chile side. 

But Tabarez believes his side has time to figure things out in the remaining group-stage matches against Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia.  

"Our championship will be played in the next three games, where we aspire to qualify," said Uruguay's legendary head coach. "We must do what is necessary to get to the next phase."

While Uruguay struggle to find their footing, La Roja are joint leaders in the group with Argentina after their 1-0 defeat of Bolivia on Friday on the heels of an opening 1-1 draw against La Albiceleste.

Chile could have had far more against Bolivia, as they put 11 shots on goal, but La Roja have to be pleased with their form under new head coach Martin Lasarte. 

The Montevideo-born Lasarte is unbeaten in five matches (2W, 3D) since being appointed in February. 

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Uruguay – Edinson Cavani

After missing the previous two games through suspension, the 34-year-old believed he had won a penalty in the 27th minute against Argentina before the referee waved off his appeal. Cavani had the lone goal in a 1-0 win against Chile in their 2019 Copa America group-stage meeting. 

Chile – Ben Brereton

The England-born striker, whose mother is Chilean, made his international debut in the tournament-opening draw with Argentina and scored in the 10th minute of La Roja's 1-0 defeat of Bolivia on Friday. 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Uruguay and Chile have not drawn in the last eight official matches they have played: five wins for Uruguay and three for Chile.

- Uruguay have won three of their last four official matches against the Chile (L1). Uruguay have not lost against Chile since November 2016 (1-3).

- Chile have scored in their last nine games in all competitions (W3 D4 L2). The last time La Roja failed to score was in a 0-0 draw against Colombia in a friendly game on October 2019.

- Uruguay will try to record their first shot on target in the competition after failing to register one in their opening fixture against Argentina.

- Chile's Mauricio Isla is, along with Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), the leader of the competition in terms of ball interceptions (six each).

Ben Brereton does not speak the language and he barely knows his team-mates but the Blackburn Rovers forward won praise after scoring the winner in Chile's 1-0 Copa America victory over Bolivia.

Stoke-On-Trent-born Blackburn star Brereton linked up with Eduardo Vargas for Chile's 10th-minute winner in only his second appearance and first start for his adopted country on Friday.

The 22-year-old, who has a Chilean mother and grandfather, was a surprise call-up for the Copa America but has not disappointed, earning praise from head coach Martin Lasarte.

"It must be very difficult for him to play for a national team where they don't speak the language he speaks," Lasarte said during his post-match news conference following the Bolivia win.

"He is making a great effort and the group is helping him adapt. He had his chance, his goal, he shouted out and he scored."

Brereton finished the match with 18 successful passes out of 20 attempted (90 per cent), three shots on target, one chance created and having scored the winner.

Vargas, who laid off the pass for Brereton's goal, added: "We get along well with Ben. We don't know his language, he doesn't know how to speak Spanish either, but we understand each other very well on the pitch."

Brereton posted on Instagram in Spanish after the game, writing: "Great job everyone. I'm very happy for today's game. We will continue working hard!"

The adoration has been widespread, with former Chile international Mauricio Pinilla tweeting: "My next son will be called Ben!"

Ben Brereton scored his first international goal as Chile edged to a 1-0 win over Bolivia in Copa America Group A on Friday. 

Martin Lasarte's side opened their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Argentina on Monday and, despite the slender scoreline, they never looked like failing to follow that up with maximum points against a limited Bolivia outfit at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba. 

Blackburn Rovers striker Brereton, who made his debut from the substitutes' bench against Argentina, scored the only goal of the game early on, firing past Carlos Lampe after an incisive breakaway. 

Chile carved out numerous chances to extend their lead – most of which came in an utterly dominant first half – but they were unable to find a way past their opponents, who have now lost their opening two games. 

Jean Meneses' long-range drive was kept out by Lampe in the early stages before Brereton opened the scoring after 10 minutes, rolling into the bottom-right corner after being teed up by Eduardo Vargas.

Lampe then denied Chile on three occasions in quick succession, superbly keeping out efforts from Brereton, Erick Pulgar and Meneses. 

Roberto Fernandez missed a glorious opportunity for Bolivia, firing wide from 10 yards with no-one around him, while Lampe repelled Brereton and Vargas, while Meneses dragged narrowly wide before half-time. 

Bolivia were much improved after the interval, with Erwin Saavedra forcing a smart stop out of Claudio Bravo shortly before the hour mark. 

Eugenio Mena headed straight at Lampe in the closing stages as Chile ultimately fell short of finding a second goal their dominance deserved.

What does it mean? Wasteful Chile do enough

Victory for Chile moved them top of Group A, although they could be reined in when Paraguay and Argentina play their second games, while Uruguay are still yet to begin. Still, four points from two games is not to be sniffed at.

The only disappointment for Lasarte's side will be that they failed to give the scoreline a more accurate reflection of their dominance. They had 18 shots (11 on target) to Bolivia's 10 (three on target) and really should have taken a few of those chances. 

Brereton makes his mark

Brereton's inclusion in Chile's squad for this tournament came as something of a surprise, given his English background and less-than prolific strike rate in the Championship. However, he looked at home on the big stage here, opening the scoring with a composed finish – one of a game-high three shots on target.

Vidal off the pace

Arturo Vidal did not look happy to be brought off after 69 minutes for Tomas Alarcon but the Inter midfielder was far from his best. The 34-year-old, who had just one shot despite his side's dominance, lost possession on 11 occasions –  the joint-highest total of any Chile player.

What's next?

Both sides face Uruguay next, Chile coming up against them on Monday and Bolivia meeting them on Thursday.

Chile have become draw specialists as they look to kick-start their Copa America campaign against Bolivia in Cuiaba on Friday.

La Roja recorded their third consecutive 1-1 draw after Eduardo Vargas' equaliser cancelled out Lionel Messi's superb free-kick against Argentina on Monday.

Copa America champions in 2015 and 2016, Chile have struggled for form since the 2019 tournament, winning just three games (L5, 6D).

Encouragingly for Chile, they have dominated Bolivia in the Copa America amid a run of five wins and a draw in CONMEBOL's showpiece event.

"We must improve the possession of the ball and do it more calmly, not be so direct in some parts of the game because that causes us a lot of wear and tear," Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said following the draw with Argentina, which included six players that featured in the 2015 Copa triumph over La Albiceleste.

"Without possession of the ball we are a very uncomfortable team and we have to continue to maintain that and continue to be aggressive."

Chile head coach Martin Lasarte, who took charge in February, added: "This team didn't want to be beaten, even though they didn't play well. These players are defiant."

Bolivia's Group A campaign got off to a disappointing start – beaten 3-1 by Paraguay on Monday.

Already missing captain and talisman Marcelo Martins due to coronavirus, Bolivia had teenage debutant Jaume Cuellar sent off while leading as Paraguay capitalised on their numerical advantage in the second half.

Bolivia – the 1963 champions who have not progressed from the group stage since 2015 – are set to be without Marcelo again in a situation the country's all-time leading goalscorer is unhappy with.

Marcelo used social media to hit out at CONMEBOL, which relocated the Copa to Brazil from Argentina and Colombia, despite the country being one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

"Thanks to you at CONMEBOL for this," Marcelo said in an Instagram post that was later deleted. "It's all your fault. If one person dies, what are you going to do? What matters to you is only money. Is the player's life worth nothing?"

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chile – Eduardo Vargas

With Alexis Sanchez sidelined for the entire group stage, Vargas is carrying the load up front.

Only Sanchez (46) has scored more international goals for Chile than forward Vargas (39).

Vargas' equaliser against Argentina saw him move level with Gabriel Batistuta in the list of the most goals in Copa history. The 31-year-old is only four goals away from matching record holders Zizinho and Tucho Mendez (17).

Bolivia – Ruben Cordano

The unheralded 22-year-old goalkeeper was on the receiving end of three goals last time out, but he still impressed.

No goalkeeper made more saves than Cordano in the opening round of Copa games – eight, double that of Bravo and Venezuela's Joel Graterol in the top three.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Chile are unbeaten in five games against Bolivia at the Copa America (W4 D1), including a 2-1 victory for La Roja in the last meeting during the 2016 edition. The two nations are playing for the third time in Brazil, winning one game apiece.
- Chile have lost just one of their 13 games versus Bolivia in all competitions (W9 D3). However, they are winless in the last two meetings with Bolivia (L1 D1), their worst winless run in this process.
- Bolivia have scored in six of their previous eight games played in the Copa America. However, they failed to keep a clean sheet in those matches (L8).

Lionel Messi said Argentina lacked control while bemoaning the state of the pitch in their Copa America draw against Chile.

Messi scored a stunning free-kick in the first half but it was not enough as Chile salvaged a 1-1 draw in the Group A encounter in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

Superstar captain Messi converted his first free-kick for Argentina since November 2016 – after 1,672 days – after curling his set-piece past Claudio Bravo in the 33rd minute.

Chile star Arturo Vidal was awarded a penalty for a rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico after referee Wilmar Roldan checked the pitch-side monitor and although the midfielder's penalty was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Emiliano Martinez, Eduardo Vargas nodded in following up approaching the hour mark.

"I think the penalty kick and when they draw gave them peace of mind, they started to handle the ball, we couldn't have it and the game got complicated for us," Messi, who scored his third Copa free-kick, said post-match.

"When we were in advantage we could not sustain the result, the playing field did not help us and we lacked control of the ball and to play faster, which they did when they managed to draw level. I did not see the penalty, but clearly it changed the game."

Argentina – runners-up in 2015 and 2016 – had their best expected goals (xG of 2.82) in a game under head coach Lionel Scaloni in World Cup qualifiers or Copa America, but they scored only one direct free-kick goal.

"We wanted to start winning, it was important to get the victory," Messi said. "We played against a very difficult opponent and now we will do it against Uruguay, another very difficult and even game.

"They are two very tough games to start the cup, that's why we wanted to start winning today."

Chile goalkeeper Bravo added: "[Messi] has a punch that not everyone has, a different precision than the rest.

"In the [World Cup] qualifiers it was my turn to come out victorious and today I had to suffer it, but football is like that and you enjoy when you have great players on the other side and who put difficult challenges on you, as well as my mission is to make things difficult for your opponent.

"I think the essential thing is that today we compete very well and this fills us with enthusiasm for what lies ahead."

It was a modest record for a player as magnificent as Lionel Messi: three games, two final defeats, one red card, no goals.

But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

 

By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

A sublime Lionel Messi free-kick was not enough for Argentina to start the Copa America with a victory as Chile striker Eduardo Vargas salvaged a 1-1 draw.

Argentina had much the better of the first half and mercurial captain Messi put them in front with a brilliant free-kick in the Group B encounter at Estadio Nilton Santos.

Vargas came to Chile's rescue after the break, heading home the rebound after Emiliano Martinez saved Arturo Vidal's penalty.

Nicolas Gonzalez was particularly wasteful as Argentina were unable to secure what would have been a deserved victory in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

Messi is yet to win a trophy with Argentina following back-to-back runners-up performances at the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, having also fallen short in the 2007 final against Brazil.

Giovani Lo Celso was Chile's chief tormentor in a promising start from the Albiceleste, setting up chances that Lautaro Martinez and Gonzalez were unable to take.

Gonzalez headed over the crossbar after his shot was palmed away by Claudio Bravo and the forward also failed to beat the Chile goalkeeper with a tame finish when the lively Lo Celso sent him clear with an incisive pass.

Messi produced yet another moment of magic to put Argentina in front, though, bending a brilliant free-kick into the top-right corner after 33 minutes.

An unmarked Martinez spurned a glorious chance to add a second when he scuffed a shot wide and Lionel Scaloni's side were made to pay for their profligacy when Chile levelled 12 minutes into the second half.

Vidal was awarded a spot-kick for a rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico after referee Wilmar Roldan checked the pitchside monitor and although the midfielder's penalty was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Martinez, Vargas nodded in following up.

Bravo palmed away Messi's drive 20 minutes from time and Gonzalez headed over the bar when his skipper presented him with another golden opportunity in a frustrating start for Argentina.

Lionel Messi admitted he is concerned about the coronavirus situation as the superstar captain targets a long-awaited title with Argentina at the Copa America.

Messi's Argentina will open their Copa America campaign against rivals Chile in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Monday.

Brazil is hosting the Copa after CONMEBOL controversially removed Argentina and Colombia as co-hosts due to respective political and COVID-19 issues.

Despite being one of the country's worst hit by the coronavirus health crisis, Brazil was awarded hosting duties for this year's showpiece event, which was already pushed back a year because of COVID-19.

Defending champions Brazil won 3-0 on Sunday against a Venezuela side that had reported 12 positive coronavirus tests amongst their ranks earlier in the week.

Speaking on the eve of Argentina's first match, Messi told reporters: "We are concerned about the situation because it is a risk for all of us to catch COVID-19.

"Although we try to take care of ourselves and do everything they tell us is not easy, because then these things happen and we face other national teams where there is a risk of contagion.

"We will try to do our best so that it does not happen to us, but this does not depend only on us and anything can happen."

Despite his remarkable Barcelona success, Messi is yet to win a senior trophy with Argentina following back-to-back runners-up performances at the Copa America 2015 and 2016, having also fallen short in the 2007 final against Brazil.

La Albiceleste and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi also lost in the 2014 World Cup decider – beaten by Germany.

"I always said that I am available to try to be with the national team and give my best," the 33-year-old Messi said.

"My biggest dream is to achieve something with the Argentina, I was close many times and unfortunately it was not given to me, but I will try to keep looking for it until it is given to me.

"If the coach who is there thinks that I can continue contributing to the team, I will always want to be there and fight for that dream. I was lucky to win everything with my club and individually, and it would be very nice to win something with the national team."

Messi was directly involved in 50 goals (38 scored, 12 assisted) in 47 games for Barca in 2020-21. Only three players in Europe's top-five leagues managed more.

He has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons, while the veteran scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top-five leagues.

Lionel Messi begins his latest quest for international glory on Monday when Argentina start their Copa America campaign against Chile.

Twice a losing finalist in 2015 and 2016 - each time to Chile - the Albiceleste came third at the tournament two years ago after losing in the semi-finals to Brazil.

While they did at least defeat La Roja in that bronze-medal match, those two penalty shoot-out losses were tough to swallow for Messi, who has been unable to match his remarkable club success for his country.

Only Uruguay (15) have won this tournament more often than Argentina (14), but their last title came in 1993 and they have lost four consecutive finals, having also been beaten in 2004 and 2007.

Argentina hold the records for both most goals scored (462) and most appearances (195) in the history of the Copa America and can at least feel buoyed by the fact they have not lost a match since that 2-0 defeat to Brazil in the last four in 2019.

They drew with Chile and Colombia in their most recent matches in World Cup qualifying, each time after taking the lead, but there appears to be a growing belief within the squad around coach Lionel Scaloni's ideas.

"The truth is the team is really well, the group is really well. We're getting to know each other more and consolidating the coaching staff's idea," Giovani Lo Celso said this week, as per Ole.

"As we know, all South American teams and matches are very difficult. It's all very balanced, very competitive and we know there are no easy games. It's going to be a very difficult group."

Chile's preparations were blighted by a foot injury suffered by Alexis Sanchez, with the Inter forward not now expected to be fit until the knockout phase.

They have only won three matches since the previous tournament and have only played three games this year under coach Martin Lasarte, who took charge in February.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lionel Messi

Still the go-to star for Argentina 16 years after his debut, this year's Copa America and the 2022 World Cup look like being Messi's final chances for international glory.

He might be turning 34 this month, but his powers remain imperious: he was directly involved in 50 goals (38 scored, 12 assisted) in 47 games for Barcelona in 2020-21. Only three players in Europe's top-five leagues managed more.

Chile – Carlos Palacios

An unknown at senior tournament level, Carlos Palacios will be familiar to some crowds in Brazil, having joined Internacional on loan from Union Espanola this year.

Still awaiting a first start for his country, the 20-year-old could well be called upon in the absence of Sanchez as Chile bid to come through Group B games with Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Argentina are unbeaten in their 28 Copa America clashes with Chile. Their 28 games are the most against a single opponent without defeat in their Copa America history.
- Chile's two Copa America titles came in consecutive editions – claiming glory in both the 2015 and 2016 tournaments.
- Argentina have beaten every single opponent in this year's Copa America more times than they have lost to them in tournament history.
- Chile made it at least to the quarter-finals in seven of the past eight editions.

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

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