SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) â€” The Copa America ended with Chile celebrating a long-awaited triumph & Argentina left wondering how much longer its title drought will last.
It was a disappointing complete for Lionel Messi & his teammates, who haven't won anything in 22 years, & a historic victory for an entire nation that desperately needed some reason to rejoice after getting way too used to a long history of tragedies at home.
After enduring a series of droughts in the south, floods in the norths, an earthquake & two volcanic eruptions this year, the country of 17 million people was celebrating a perfect ending to an emotional tournament.
p>Chile defeated Argentina 4-1 in a penalty shootout in the final of the South American tournament on Saturday, finally winning a major title after decades of disappointments.
"We have always been hit by tragedies," defender Jorge Rojas said. "We deserved to enjoy this happiness."
The entire nation was behind "La Roja" from the start, & the victory at the Estadio Nacional â€” with President Michelle Bachelet cheering from the stands â€” helped people take their minds away from recent natural disasters. These included the devastating 2010 earthquake & tsunami that killed more than 500 people & destroyed nearly 220,000 houses in the country tucked by the Pacific Ocean.
"In the locker room we kept thinking of our family, our sons, the people that suffered in Chile because of the earthquake & many other things," Chile defender Mauricio Isla said. "That's why we played with heart. We showed that with heart you can achieve anything."
Thousands of fans went on the streets of Santiago to celebrate the triumph. Shortly after the game ended, the players were welcomed by Bachelet at the presidential palace, where everyone took photographs by the coveted trophy.
"This country deserved this because of everything that it has been through," Chile's Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli said.
The Copa America had the feel of a World Cup to Chileans. The national team entered the tournament as a title-favorite thanks to the support of the home crowd & one of its best generations of players. Fans closely followed the national team throughout the competition, attending practice sessions & getting out of their homes to greet players before matches.
Chile had lost four Copa America finals, including at home in 1955. The nation reached the round of 16 of last year's World Cup, when it was eliminated on penalties by host Brazil.
Argentina was runner-up to Germany in the final in Brazil, & the Copa America gave Messi & his talented teammates another chance to end the team's title drought. But Messi again couldn't come up with the type of performance he is used to displaying at Barcelona, & his winless streak with the national team continues.
Saturday's final came exactly 22 years after Argentina won its last trophy at the 1993 Copa America. Since then, it has failed in seven Copa Americas & six World Cups, with Messi playing in five of those tournaments.
"We will just keep trying," Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said.
Five nations in this year's Copa America had reached the last 16 at the World Cup a year ago, yet Uruguay, Brazil & Colombia never made it past the quarterfinals in Chile. Surprising Peru finished third for the second straight time after beating Paraguay in the third-place match.
Brazil, coming off the humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup, was eliminated by Paraguay. The five-time world champions were without Neymar, who was banned from the competition after a confrontation with Colombian players in the group stage.
Colombia, led by James Rodriguez & Radamel Falcao, disappointed from the start & lost to Argentina on penalties. Defending champion Uruguay, without suspended Luis Suarez, fell to Chile after star striker Edinson Cavani was red carded for reacting to provocation by slapping defender Gonzalo Jara.
Chile star midfielder Arturo Vidal received to keep playing until the final despite crashing his Ferrari while allegedly driving drunk early in the tournament, a case that caught the attention of the entire country.
The Copa America began in the wake of the FIFA corruption scandal that allegedly involved many South American officials & eventually forced President Sepp Blatter to announce he will be stepping down. CONMEBOL president Juan Angel Napout told The Associated Press on Saturday that South America's governing body needs "total & absolute change."
Chile striker Eduardo Vargas & Peru forward Paolo Guerrero finished as the tournament's leading scorers with four goals each.
The Copa America returns next year with its centennial tournament in the United States.
Source: “Associated Press”