After the thrills, pain, frustration and controversy experienced earlier this week, the Copa América will end on a note of distinct anticlimax for Argentina. Today, in Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, the Albiceleste will stage a repeat of the 2015 and 2016 finals against Chile in the third-place play-off, that detested appendage found in almost every major international tournament that absolutely nobody wishes to play.
Aside from the opportunity to get some measure of (hollow) revenge, the clash will mean little to Lionel Scaloni, Lionel Messi and the rest of the Argentine delegation in Brazil. They will already be looking forwards, to their return to home soil in a matter of days, which will be undertaken in a far more positive mood than most would have dared to guess at the start of this rollercoaster of a competition.
The adventure eventually came to an end on Tuesday at the ha nds of hosts a nd overwhelming Copa favourites Brazil, who – refereeing conspiracies aside – proved too strong for a team that has only just begun to come together in the final few games. Gabriel Jesus in the first half and Roberto Firmino after the break made the difference in a 2-0 home victory in Belo Horizonte, a result that nevertheless leaves the rookie coach Scaloni in a somewhat stronger position than when the Albiceleste flirted with humiliation at the outset.
“I don’t care about my future, but I think we have left some hope for the future,” he signalled to reporters following the final whistle at the Estadio Mineirao. Early indications suggest that Scaloni will remain in his post until at least December, when Argentina will presumably resume courtship of River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo or perhaps the new favourite of President Mauricio Macri, Gabriel Heinze.
Judging by his furious reaction to Tuesday’s refereeing, whoever is in charge for 2020 and onwards will be able to count on the talents of Messi, with no talk of a repeat of his stunning international retirement and subsequent U-turn in 2016 likely this time round. There is also the feeling that the core of a team has come together over these past weeks, with the likes of Juan Foyth, Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul and Lautaro Martínez out of the new crop of talent set to feature far more regularly for their country in the months and years to come.
With close to a year’s wait before World Cup qualifying begins and yet another Copa in 2020, there is time for further fine-tuning. It is the responsibility of everyone involved with the national team to ensure that no more time is wasted, and that a coherent, sustained project is put in place to build on the unexpected optimism that accompanies the Albiceleste back from Brazil.
A STADIUM OVER ONE’S HEAD
As the action was heating up in Belo Horizonte, back in Buenos Aires the mercury was plummeting. A cold snap took overnight temperatures to near-zero, placing the city’s homeless population in real peril. And in the face of alleged lack of action from authorities as well as the death of a man less than a kilometre from Casa Rosada as the freeze set in, River Plate took it upon themselves to ease the situation.
The Millonarios opened up the Monumental on Wednesday night and welcomed more than 100 vulnerable individuals and families, who received a tour of the club’s museum and a hot meal before bedding down in River’s facilities. Disregarding the poisonous and absurd backlash the gesture received from certain sectors linked to the government, it was a laudable move that made a real difference to those given shelter on the coldest night of the year.
River were far from the only football team to mobilise, with many other clubs taking it upon themselves to organise the collection and distribution of blankets, coats and other essential items. What was underlined in this moment of need was the invaluable social role these teams play in their communities, an aspect of the day-to-day administration that does not hit the headlines too often amid Superliga matches and lucrative transfers but deserves to be aired.
On-pitch success is just one
part of the role presidents and
directors are expected to play
when elected by their members. Not all fulfil that mandate, of course, but the best officials ensure that the likes of
River make a real difference in
their communities. At a time
where the spectre of private
ownership continues to loom
over football, now is as good a
moment as any to remember
that the real value of a club is
measured by far more than just
points and trophies.