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Chile retain title to cap momentous tournament

Claudio Bravo of Chile lifts the trophy after winning the Copa America Centenario
© Getty Images

In winning the Copa America Centenario, Chile underlined their status as the pre-eminent force in South American football, while also extending their dominance across the Americas as a whole. Having had to wait 99 years for their first title, La Roja took only 12 months to add a second.

Just as they had done in 2015, the Chileans lifted the trophy after seeing off Argentina on penalties. A third consecutive final loss in the space of only two years had unforeseen implications for La Albiceleste, with Lionel Messi promptly deciding to announce his retirement from international football.

Featuring all ten CONMEBOL teams and six from the CONCACAF Zone, who will now turn their attentions back to the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the centenary edition of the world’s oldest national team competition attracted record attendances. draws its conclusions from the tournament, which came to a dramatic end on Sunday.

The champions
After a slow start, Chile gathered momentum and showed once again why they have become a force to be reckoned with in recent years. Boasting the best group of players in their history, La *Roja *answered the doubts raised by their opening-day defeat to Argentina, proving themselves to be a mature, solid team that know exactly what they are about, despite the fact new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has only been in the job for only four months.

Impressive as unit, Chile also had the tournament’s outstanding individual performers, as reflected by the awards. Recovering from a shaky opening game, Claudio Bravo made a vital contribution in the knockout rounds and walked away with the Golden Glove. Alexis Sanchez charted a similar path in making the Golden Ball his, while Eduardo Vargas took the Golden Boot despite going goalless in his first two games. And though there were no accolades for Arturo Vidal, he was every bit as important in inspiring Chile to a successful title defence.

Chile will now look to build on their latest triumph in the South American qualifiers for Russia 2018, where they lie fourth in the table. The next major objective for their upwardly mobile team is to make World Cup history.

*Lessons learned
Argentina seem to be at a crossroads, with their excellent run to the final now forgotten following Messi’s decision to retire, a sudden farewell that could have unforeseen consequences for a generation of players scarred by a string of lost finals.

La Albiceleste were solid at the back, conceding just two goals in six games, and lethal up front, averaging three goals a game before the final, though all that has paled into insignificance with the possibility that more players could follow La Pulga into retirement. Only the resumption of the Russia 2018 qualifiers will reveal quite how a post-Messi Argentina will look.

While Colombia fell short of reaching the final and could only finish third, they can be largely pleased with their performance in the USA. Giving opportunities to Colombian league players such as full-back Farid Diaz and midfielders Daniel Torres and Sebastian Perez, Jose Pekerman can take satisfaction from the fact that his squad reached the podium despite being the second-youngest in the competition behind Peru.

Though the Peruvians were unable to repeat the third places they achieved at Argentina 2011 and Chile 2015, Ricardo Gareca’s youthful side showed they have a lot going for themselves. For their part, Ecuador will be disappointed they could not kick on after advancing from the group phase for the first time in 19 years, with hosts USA ending their run in the quarters.

No fewer than three big names failed to make it that far, among them Brazil and Paraguay, whose early exits respectively spelled the end for Dunga – who has already been replaced by Tite – and Ramon Diaz. The third was Uruguay, who were hampered by the injury-enforced absence of Luis Suarez. That said, all three are determined to feature at Russia 2018 and be involved right until the end of World Cup qualifying.

USA flew the flag highest for the CONCACAF Zone, which provided two of the quarter-finalists. Guided by the veterans Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones, the hosts were hard-working and ambitious, even if their tournament ended in a heavy loss to Argentina in the semis. Mexico suffered an even worse fate, crashing to their heaviest ever defeat in an official match at the hands of Chile in the last eight. Time will tell if that 7-0 rout, which brought to an end a 22-game unbeaten run, will have lasting consequences.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica and Panama will be hoping to pick their form up when they get back to World Cup qualifying action, as will Bolivia, Jamaica and Haiti, who all went pointless in their three group games.

The stat
46,000 - the average attendance at the Copa America Centenario, the highest in the competition’s 100-year history and the second-highest for a football tournament staged in the USA, behind only the FIFA World Cup in 1994, when 20 more games were staged.

What they said
“This generation of players deserve a standing ovation for everything they’ve done, for all the effort they’ve put in, and for all the sacrifices they’ve made to represent their country. I’m very happy, and this win is for all the Chileans who have stuck with us, through thick and thin... There’s no limit to what this generation can achieve.”
Arturo Vidal *reacts to Chile’s Copa America Centenario triumph*

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