Fans who tuned in to watch Sunday’s Copa America Centenario final between Chile and Argentina expected an action-packed, high-scoring affair, but thanks to the man in the middle, the match was anything but.
The two teams had combined for 17 goals scored in the two games leading up to the final, and even with two solid goalkeepers in net, it seemed unfathomable for the match to be scoreless after 120 minutes of play.
Thanks to referee Heber Lopes, that’s exactly what happened.
Lopes took the game over from the moment it began, blowing his whistle quite often, being vocal with players and effectively slowing the pace of the game down, which took away from the speed these two teams possess. And while that was bad, with Lopes policing the match as if he were an actual participant in it, it was the two ejections in the first half that really made an impact.
In just the 28th minute of the match, Marcelo Diaz impeded Lionel Messi’s progress, which looked to be a normal foul. However, for some reason, Lopes deemed it to be card-worthy. The problem was that Diaz already had a yellow card, so receiving his second warranted a red card, and he was ejected from the match. Messi did a good job selling the call.
— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) June 27, 2016
Playing 11-on-10 against Argentina is like a death wish, as it’s extremely difficult to play a man down against one of the best offensive-minded teams in the world. No problem, because just 14 minutes later, one of Argentina’s defenders was shown a straight red card for a hard tackle. Sure, Marcos Rojo was a bit reckless with this challenge, but he should’ve been shown a yellow card, not a red one. This was clearly a make-up call, in an effort to correct the error he made ejecting Diaz.
— Manchester United (@ManUtdUpdates_) June 27, 2016
When it was all said and done, a total of nine cards were given out (five to Chile, four to Argentina). The referee’s trigger-happy attitude caused both teams to play much more cautious than they usually do. The way Argentina played in the second half was about as passive as you’ll ever see them play.
FOX Sports analyst Stuart Holden summed the sequence of events up well.
This Referee is trying to make a name for himself tonight.. disappointing. Ruining a great match and occasion. #CopaAmerica
— Stuart Holden (@stuholden) June 27, 2016
When it’s all said and done, Lopes will receive the majority of the blame and will, likely, fall on the sword. While he should be criticized for his actions, and the way he attempted to insert himself into the game as if he were playing in it, Copa America Centenario’s Local Organizing Committee deserves some of the blame as well. They selected Lopes to referee this match, knowing his tendencies and how it could affect the uptempo pace these two play at. But at the end of the day, it was a good result for the tournament as well as the network that broadcasted the game (FOX Sports), as the match was close throughout and extended into penalty kicks.
Unfortunately, fans of both teams had to suffer. And what was fixing to be a thrilling match with plenty of scoring chances didn’t live up to the hype, even in the most pivotal match of the tournament. Chile emerged victorious by outscoring Argentina in penalty kicks (4-2), and they put together a gutsy performance, but fans deserved more.