Argentina made an impressive winning start to their Copa América campaign with a deserved victory over champions Chile despite the injury absence of Lionel Messi.
Paris St Germain midfielder Ángel Di María, whose grandmother died only hours before kickoff, was instrumental in the win and in Gerardo Martino’s Messi-less side that looked to counter at speed, the 28-year-old was vital.
After a frantic first half that lacked precision both sides created openings but it was perhaps Chile that should have led when Alexís Sánchez saw the clearest chance stopped by Sergio Romero.
Di María along with Messi’s replacement Nicolás Gaitán and Éver Banega were posing a threat when turning over possession and running at the Chilean defence and five minutes after the break the deadlock was broken.
Banega won the ball close to halfway and immediately released Di María who made no mistake in rifling the ball low past Claudio Bravo at his near post.
Eight minutes later and the roles were reversed when the former Manchester United and Real Madrid player slipped the ball into Banega in an almost identical position.
The Sevilla playmaker’s shot was deflected but once more the ball whistled inside Bravo’s near post.
Argentina were dominant and perhaps should have extended their lead with Gonzalo Higuaín, Marcos Rojo and Érik Lamela all going close.
However, deep in stoppage time it was Chile that found the net as a result of an error in judgement by Sergio Romero, who had otherwise had an excellent game.
The Manchester United goalkeeper came from his line to claim a free kick and was left grasping at thin air as José Fuenzalida nodded the ball into the empty net.
Gerardo Martino told reporters after the game, “Apart from a few lapses where we couldn’t pressure well, I was very happy with the whole performance.”
With Messi to return to the side for Friday’s match with Panama, Argentina have made the perfect start to this Copa América.
An obviously emotional Ángel Di María, who dedicated his goal to his late grandmother, could not hold back his tears at full time, but the Rosario-born speed merchant gave a performance that not only highlights his importance to the team but illustrates just how damaging his injury at the 2014 World Cup was to Argentina’s chances.