And so, once again, Argentina stand on the brink. For them, Gabriel Batistuta’s two goals against Mexico in the 1993 Copa America final have come to seem an awful long time ago. Since then they’ve won five Under-20 World Cups and two Olympic golds but no senior trophies.
After defeat in a World Cup final and three Copa America finals (and a Confederations Cup final), Argentina are once again one game from ending their trophy drought. Fail to beat Cile in East Rutherford on Sunday night at 8pm ET, Diego Maradona has already said, and this side shouldn’t bother going home.
It wasn’t a helpful comment, nor one with much perspective, but it did capture a mood. It’s not just frustration at the repeated near misses, or the fact that Uruguay in 2011 went past Argentina as the most successful side in Copa America history, that provides a sense of urgency. There hasn’t been an Under-20 World Cup success since 2005.
The river of talent is no longer in spate and the great generation of Messi, Sergio Agüero and Angel Di Maria, veterans of the Olympic success of 2008, will all be over 30 by the time of the next World Cup.
This additional Copa America has come as an extremely useful bonus. “I don’t know if this is a last chance,” said Messi, “but we have to take this new opportunity and grab it as though it is. This is the fourth final I’ve played with the national team and I would like some day to change history and be a champion.”
That’s why Argentina from the start have been taking the tournament seriously, unlike, say Brazil, who left Neymar out so he can focus on the Olympics, and Uruguay, whose coach Oscar Washington Tabarez has been sceptical about its validity. Even the Conmebol president Alejando Dominguez, in confirming this week that Chile will represent South America at next year’s Confederations Cup, described this as a “one-off event” and said Chile remain Copa America champions until 2019. But if Argentina win on Sunday, few there will care.