After 28 years and seven final defeats Argentina could have some justification in thinking they would never end their trophy drought. Lionel Messi had said as much when he blazed over from the penalty spot and momentarily retired in the wake of another Copa América final defeat to Chile in 2016.
Unlike in 2015 and 2016 Argentina were underdogs on Saturday against a Brazil side that were reigning champions, unbeaten on home soil since 2014, dominant in their recent head-to-head record and at the Maracanã, undefeated since that infamous 1950 World Cup loss to Uruguay.
Yet for all the critics and doubters, Lionel Scaloni has galvanised a fresh group of players in the wake of the 2018 World Cup calamity and the belief despite the odds was clear.
Five changes from the side that overcame Colombia in the semi-finals saw Cristian Romero return from injury, one of three defensive changes, Leandro Paredes replaced Guido Rodríguez and most surprisingly Ángel Di María started in a switch to a 4-4-2.
A move that prompted more raised eyebrows ahead of kick off. Yet Di María and Argentina’s much maligned defence shone.
Barring a couple of nervy moments, Argentina stifled Brazil. Romero once again suggesting he will be the cornerstone of the defence for years to come, Nicolás Otamendi and Gonzalo Montiel defying their critics and Scaloni’s midfield impeccable.
Rodrigo De Paul the pick of the bunch and the final’s star player providing the decisive moment midway through the first half. The indefatigable midfielder lofting a ball over the top for Di María to beat Renan Lodi and lift over Ederson sparking wild celebrations.
The Brazilian onslaught was expected and although the hosts saw plenty of the ball, Argentina stood firm. Closing space, snapping into challenges and when necessary doing anything required to stop Neymar and Co. advancing.
Richarlison came close on a couple of occasions and a close offside decision denied Brazil but in truth Tite’s side lacked ideas. And in fact Argentina could have sealed victory.
It seemed written in the stars when Lionel Messi exchanged passes with De Paul to go through on goal but the clearly exhausted Argentina captain lost control at the vital moment.
It didn’t matter. Referee Esteban Ostojich blew for full time and Argentina had done it. The players swarmed around a tearful Messi knowing what this moment meant for the world’s greatest player but for an entire nation it was relief. Despite almost 30 years of outstanding talent La Albiceleste hadn’t lifted a senior title since 1993 and now with a side arguably lacking a lot of the individual quality of years gone by the wait was over.