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Chile wins Copa America on PKs; cruel deja vu for Messi, Argentina

Chile goes back-to-back in Copa America, beating Argentina and Lionel Messi for a second straight summer in penalty kicks.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Chile won the Copa América Centenario in a 4-2 penalty shootout after a 0-0 tie on Sunday. It’s the second Copa América title in Chile’s history and the second in two years.

Once again, favored Argentina failed to win a major trophy for the first time since 1993. The Albiceleste has now lost three straight finals, including the World Cup final in 2014 and the last two Copa América finals on penalties to Chile.

Not only was Lionel Messi unable to get off the schneid in a major final, but he sent Argentina's first penalty of the shootout over the bar. Argentina may have been the best team overall in this tournament, but Chile improved throughout and played the Argentines to a standstill until the penalties came.

Here are four thoughts on the game:

Messi keeps searching

How many times has a team lost in a major final in three straight years? Never? Argentina had everything going for it coming into this game and was a significant favorite. But Chile has learned how to limit Messi as well as any national team, and once again Argentina and Messi went through a final without producing a single goal.

At times, it seemed like Argentina’s players basically decided to let Messi go one-on-four and spectate, and their lack of support showed. Messi, too, had an off game. He went down more easily than usual and seemed to tire as the game went into extra time. You have to wonder with Messi’s penalty miss and another Argentina failure in a final whether the world’s greatest player will have an enduring mental block when it comes to the biggest games with his national team.

Bravo made the big saves

In a penalty shootout, one moment can make the difference, and Bravo dove to his right to save Lucas Biglia’s penalty in the fourth round before Francisco Silva clinched it for La Roja in the next round. Bravo had been horrible during the first half of this tournament, but he rebounded to make some gigantic plays in the final games, including a remarkable save on Sergio Agüero in extra time on Sunday.

You can give Bravo some credit, too, for having a presence in the goal—his own mystique, if you will—when it came to Gonzalo Higuaín’s breakaway miss and perhaps even Messi’s own loss of nerve on his wayward penalty. 

Referee Héber Lopes had a shocker

You never want to see a final decided by a referee, and the Brazilian Lopes had a series of poor decisions that influenced the game. The first was a second yellow card for Chile’s Marcelo Díaz for blocking the path of Messi on the break for a second time. If the first one was a borderline red card, the second (on replay review) shouldn’t have been a yellow and sending off.

Lopes followed that with an even more ludicrous straight red makeup call against Argentina’s Marcos Rojo, who deserved no more than a yellow for his tackle on Arturo Vidal. It’s unfortunate that such a plum assignment would go to a referee who had handed out reds in 14 of his last 27 games before this one. But in a sense Lopes also un-ruined the game with the Rojo red, and as you’d expect it was more even after that—albeit “even” in a war-of-attrition kind of way.

These teams had their chances

Argentina’s Higuaín has become synonymous with choking in finals, and he didn’t disappoint on Sunday. For the third straight year Higuaín had a chance to be a hero in a final only to botch his opportunity, getting a one-on-one break on goalkeeper Claudio Bravo before sending his shot wide left.

In extra time, Chile’s Eduardo Vargas had a dangerous header stopped by Sergio Romero right before Argentina’s Agüero had his looping header saved remarkably by Bravo. Defensive-minded players starred in this game, from Chile’s Arturo Vidal (who was magnificent) to Argentina’s Javier Mascherano and Ramiro Funes Mori.

In the end, nobody could be decisive enough on the attacking end, and just like last year’s Copa América final, it had to be decided on penalties.