SANTA CLARA, Calif., Sporting Alert – An emotional Angel Di Maria and Ever Banega were on target and Argentina knocked off Chile 2-1 in their opening Group D Copa America game at Levi’s Stadium on Monday night.
With captain and leading marksman Lionel Messi not fit enough to start, the World No. 1 ranked nation looked to others to provide the spark and several players stepped up to help the favourites get off to a winning start to the tournament.
After a 0-0 first half action, Di Maria scored the game’s opening goal in the 51st minute, following a pass from Ever Banega.
The PSG winger broke into the box with his pace before firing a left-footed shot past Claudio Bravo, who was disappointed at being beaten at his near post.
Di Maria then turned provider for the second goal eight minutes later after he laid a ball off for Banega to score off a deflected shot, which also skid past Bravo at his near post.
Di Maria dedicated his goal to his late grandmother who passed away recently.
After scoring, he held up a t-shirt that read: “Grandma, I’ll miss you very much.”
With tears in his eyes, an emotional Angel said during an on-field interview after the game: “It’s difficult to be away when something like this happens.
“My mom asked me to stay here with my teammates and to win the game.”
Chile pulled a goal back through José Fuenzalida in the last seconds of injury time.
Argentina named Messi on the bench, with the Barcelona forward still recovering from a back injury and only flew to the United States last Thursday.
He was replaced in the starting lineup by Nicolas Gaitan, who at times, was a handful for the Chile defenders.
“The team is different if Messi is playing or not,” said Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi. “Messi’s probably more dangerous than any other soccer player.
“That’s an advantage we had. But the player who replaced Messi, Gaitan, played well. He has other virtues, other characteristics.
“He helped them have a better structure and made them a solid team. They were able to take advantage of their opportunity.”
Meanwhile, in the other Copa America Group D game on Monday, Panama picked up a 2-1 win over Bolivia, with veteran Blas Perez scoring both goals in the win.