Alexis Sanchez is kicking his way into the history books…
The 26-year-old Chilean soccer player, who plays for English club Arsenal and the Chilean national team, helped lead his country to its first Copa America title on Saturday.
Chile defeated Argentina 4-1 in the penalty shootout, which followed two hours of scoreless action on the field.
Sanchez gave his country the win after Argentines Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega failed to convert from 11 meters (36 feet), ending a drought of nearly 100 years for La Roja in the oldest international continental soccer competition.
The final at Santiago’s National Stadium was a clash of titans, an intense battle that was characterized more by the teams’ effort and hustle than artful play.
Chile won the possession battle from the outset, imposing its ball-control style against a side that also typically dominates in that facet of the game.
That led to a golden opportunity in the 11th minute for Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, who received a ball that had been lobbed in the air on a deflection by an Argentine defender and nearly booted it past goalkeeper Sergio Romero, who was forced to make a diving save.
Fourteen-time Copa America champion Argentina also had some chances in the first half, including a header at point-blank range by Sergio “Kun” Agüero that Chilean Claudio Bravo was able to deflect out of play.
In the second half, Argentine midfielders Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano struggled to impose any order in their team’s attack, rendering super-striker Lionel Messi unable to work any playmaking magic.
With the Chilean crowd urging them on, Jorge Sampaoli’s squad aggressively sought out the winning goal and was nearly rewarded for their efforts when a shot by Sanchez barely missed the mark in the 82nd minute.
Then on the final play of regulation, Argentina had its best scoring opportunity of the match when Ezequiel Lavezzi received the ball on the left side from Messi and sent a pass that scooted past Bravo and found Higuain, but the Argentine forward received the ball too close to the goal line and could only slam a shot into the side of the net.
The extra period was mostly uneventful, with both teams wary of making a costly error, although a miscue by Mascherano nearly ended in a goal for Sanchez in the 15th minute.
Argentine’s offensive ineptness continued in the penalty shootout, with Higuain sending his shot far over the crossbar and Bravo denying Banega’s attempt, leaving Messi as the only member of the Albiceleste to score.
Sanchez put the finishing touch on the historic victory with a soft strike that slowly bounded into the left half of the goal after Romero had dived to the other side.
Chile finally won the Copa America title match in its fifth appearance to end nearly a century of frustration at this event, which was known as the South American Championship between 1916 and 1967.
La Roja finished runner-up in 1955 (when it was also the host nation), 1956, 1979 and 1987.