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Messi sees red as Argentina finish third

Pin Messi was sent off at the end of the first-half. EFE
Messi was sent off at the end of the first-half. EFE

Messi sees red as Argentina finish third

Tom Cunild by Tom Cunild @besoccer_es - 0 +12k

Lionel Messi received a controversial red card as Argentina ground out a 2-1 win against Chile to finish third at the 2019 Copa America after a tempestuous and entertaining encounter in Sao Paulo.

Argentina put their semi-final disappointment behind them as they beat Chile 2-1 on Saturday evening to take third at the Copa America.

Hours after England Women's manager Phil Neville described third-place play-offs as "nonsense games", Argentina and Chile set about proving him wrong as they contested a thrilling first-half in Sao Paulo.

'La Albiceleste' took the lead early on, with captain Messi heavily involved in the opener. Argentina's number 10 displayed excellent awareness as he took a free-kick he won himself in midfield quickly, sliding through an inch-perfect pass for Sergio Agüero to run onto. The Manchester City striker latched onto the through ball, rounded goalkeeper Gabriel Arias and slotted home from a tight angle on the right.

Chile's nightmare start continued as their talisman Alexis Sánchez hobbled off clutching his hamstring, throwing his armband to the ground in disgust as he made his way to the bench. However, their troubles would be compounded just minutes later as Argentina doubled their lead through Paulo Dybala.

The Juventus forward, who was starting his first match of the tournament, showed manager Lionel Scaloni that he might have been better off playing him more as he took a crisp pass from Giovani Lo Celso in his stride and blew past Chile's ageing defenders before chipping over the onrushing Arias from an angle.

Dybala then nearly doubled his tally with what would have been one of the goals of the tournament, firing wide an acrobatic effort after another pinpoint Messi pass.

This would prove to be one of the Barcelona forward's final contributions as the plot took an unexpected twist just minutes later. After Gary Medel shielded a ball out for a goal kick, Messi seemed to give him a light push in the back. The former Cardiff defender reacted angrily, squaring up to Messi and making a rather aggressive motion towards the Argentina star with his his head.

Paraguayan referee Mario Díaz de Vivar, who in truth was the picture of inconsistency all evening, showed both of them a red card - a decision that, as harsh as it seemed towards Messi, stuck even after a lengthy delay in which the referee himself didn't even go to watch the replay on the monitor.

Chile were ineffective in the first half, but were handed a lifeline through a VAR awarded penalty after Giovani Lo Celso, who is reportedly a target for Tottenham, brought down Charles Aránguiz millimeters inside the Argentina box. 

Arturo Vidal stepped up and rifled his effort with plenty of power down the middle to drag Chile back into it, but the defending champions in truth created precious little afterwards. 

The rest of the second-half struggled to live up to the frantic entertainment seen in the first, with the rhythm of the play severely affected by rising tempers and scrappy fouls that saw a total of seven players booked as well as the two sent off in the first-half.

Agüero spurned a pair of late chances to make the scoreline more convincing, but Argentina ultimately ran out deserved winners in a match that was of course overshadowed by just the second red card of Lionel Messi's career. Interestingly, his only other sending-off came 14 years ago on his Argentina debut against Hungary. So, Argentina seal the bronze medal, but this game will surely leave another indelible mark on Messi's hotly-disputed 'Albiceleste' legacy.

Tom Cunild

Tom Cunild

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