It finally happened. After years of hurt and near misses, Lionel Messi and Argentina finally have their hands on their first major international trophy. Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in the Copa America final courtesy of an Angel di Maria goal. With the exhilarating ride that was Copa America now at the end, we look at the stars of the tournament. Here are FootTheBall’s recipients of Golden Boot (top scorer), Golden Glove (Best GK, most clean sheets) and Golden Ball (Best overall player).
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) July 11, 2021
GOLDEN BOOT- LIONEL MESSI, LUIS DIAZ
The top-scorer award, with four goals, is shared by a usual suspect and an emerging star. One always expects Lionel Messi to be in and around the top of these charts but Colombia’s Luis Diaz really shone in this tournament, with his goals ensuring that a James Rodriguez-less Colombia outperformed expectations to finish 3rd in the tournament.
What a Copa America for Luis Diaz 💫
– Scored a bicycle kick against Brazil
– Scored a brace in the third-place match against Peru
– Finished the tournament with four goals pic.twitter.com/FtIVCbfxOp
— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 10, 2021
By Euro rules, Messi would have won this award outright due to his five assists to go with four goals but Copa America recognises goals alone even in case of a tie so the Argentine shares this award with Diaz. Not a bad company for the Colombian to be in!
GOLDEN GLOVE- EMILIANO MARTINEZ
Despite being in the shadows as a barely used backup keeper at Arsenal for several years, Martinez showed that there is no age barrier for talent to breakthrough. Martinez finished the tournament with four clean sheets to win the Golden Glove award.
While clean sheets can also be an indicator of the relative comfort of a goalkeeper, Martinez’s tournament was anything but comfortable. His apex arrived when he saved three penalties in a nervy shootout against Colombia in the semi-final, vanquishing the demons of previously failed penalty shootouts.
— Emi Martínez (@emimartinezz1) July 7, 2021
Martinez’s rise has been meteoric since the moment he took the opportunity that came his way at Arsenal due to an injury to Bernd Leno. After impressing as a stand-in, he earned himself a move to Aston Villa as the first-choice and hasn’t looked back since.
The goalkeeping position has been a position of contention in the national set-up but Martinez has come in like a whirlwind and made it his own. Despite there being a gap of nearly eight years between his first and second call-ups to the side, he is now the undisputed number one. Always looking in supreme command of his box and filled with steely belief in his abilities, Martinez’s self-assuredness has undoubtedly rubbed off on the team and he has been a crucial part of the success.
BEST DEFENDER- THIAGO SILVA
Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles. Although Brazil didn’t win the title, failing at the final hurdle, a big reason why they had such a serene ride to the final was down to their defensive solidity. Thiago Silva was the conductor-in-chief of their resolute defence.
Tite has leaned into a system that has been in vogue in the previous few international tournaments. Brazil rely on defensive organisation first and foremost which is complemented by their attacking moments of brilliance.
In such a system, it is of utmost importance that the defenders keep their shape intact and remain alert to their surroundings. Thiago Silva has rolled back the years with his performances this season, marshalling a suspect Chelsea side to an unlikely UCL win followed by huge defensive performances in this tournament. Silva’s stats do not jump out like many of his defensive peers, as he does not lead any of the defensive stats categories. This, however, is a testament to his abilities as he rarely needs to throw himself into tackles, or hack away the ball. Thiago Silva, at 36, remains the key cog in a UCL winning side and a resurgent Brazil side. Maybe age is, after all, just a number.
GOLDEN BALL- LIONEL MESSI
Lionel Messi during the 2021 Copa América:
◉ =Most goals
◉ Most assists
◉ Most shots
◉ Most shots on target
◉ =Most chances created
◉ Most goals outside the box
◉ Most through balls
◉ Most accurate final ⅓ passes
Player of the Tournament again. Champion, finally. pic.twitter.com/O8RdsF1gUH
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 11, 2021
There could only be one. The criticism that surrounded the Agentine talisman for failing to win an international trophy was at such a fever pitch that the team even came up with a chant to motivate themselves. The chant directed some choice words towards the journalists and outside actors who didn’t believe in the team.
Lionel Messi absolutely ran the show that was Copa America as he finished the tournament with four goals and five assists. He dug out his side from difficult moments through sheer force of will at times. Be it a delicate assist against Bolivia or an audacious chip, Messi confirmed his supremacy as he looked a cut above the competition throughout the tournament. There were the usual magical, jinking runs that bamboozled the opposition, but this time, this panache was accompanied by a steeliness in his approach. This was a man on a mission who would not be denied no matter the circumstances. When arguably the greatest player in football history decides that he won’t be losing this time and walks in with a driven mentality, the opposition can’t do much else than wait for their fate to be decided.
Despite being shrouded in all the uncertainties leading up to the tournament, Copa America delivered on all fronts. Amazing goals, flying tackles, audacious skill moves were all to be found. All of this was capped by the moment much of the footballing world had been waiting for, an international trophy for Messi and Argentina. Copa America will remain in the memory of fans for a long while and so will these stars of the tournament.