Santa Clara (US): A grieving Angel Di Maria was the inspiration as Argentina shrugged off the absence of Lionel Messi to defeat holders Chile 2-1 in their opening Copa America Centenario game here yesterday.
Argentina's Angel Di Maria holds a T-shirt with the message, "Grandma, I will miss you so much" as a tribute during the Copa America match vs Chile in California yesterday. Pic/AFP
Paris Saint-Germain star Di Maria — reeling from the death of his grandmother only hours earlier — scored one goal and set up another as the two-time world champions avenged their defeat to Chile in last year's Copa America final.
Di Maria opened the scoring on 51 minutes and emotionally held a T-shirt up to the sky emblazoned with the message: "Grandma, I will miss you so much." Moments later Di Maria then set up Argentina's second for Ever Banega. "I had to play, I wanted to play, my grandmother was so proud that I played for the national team," Di Maria said during a post-match television interview before breaking down in tears.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino revealed afterwards Di Maria had kept his loss a secret from him. "I just learned that five minutes ago that his grandmother died," Martino said. "He didn't tell me anything, he was feeling well to play."
Di Maria's virtuoso display secured a deserved three points for Argentina, who will now fancy their chances of topping Group D with games against Panama and Bolivia to come. Chile substitute Jose Fuenzalida scored an injury time consolation for the holders.
Injured Argentina captain Messi watched from the substitutes' bench at Levi's Stadium after failing to recover in time from a sore back suffered in a friendly win over Honduras last month.
Chile's Argentina-born coach Juan Antonio Pizzi bemoaned mistakes, which cost his team goals. Twice Chile ceded possession cheaply in midfield, leading to Argentina's two goals. "The mistakes were crucial," Pizzi said. "They cost us two goals." It was Chile's third straight defeat — but Pizzi was bullish about his team's chances of coming back.
"We believe we're going to get into the next round," he said. "I know we have difficult games ahead of us, but we're going to continue working hard and we have belief to move to the next round."