Keenly contested, entertaining and peppered with goals, the opening two games in Group D of the Copa America Centenario raised the excitement levels at a tournament that had yet to fully capture the imagination. Panama wrote their name in the competition’s record books when they beat Bolivia in an exciting encounter to become the first non-CONMEBOL side to kick off their campaign with a win. In the day’s other game, a Lionel Messi-less Argentina defeated Chile 2-1 to gain a measure of revenge for their defeat to their neighbours in last year’s final.
Panama 2-1 Bolivia
Argentina 2-1 Chile
Panama made their Copa America bow in Orlando against a revamped Bolivia featuring a host of young players who have yet to turn the team’s fortunes around. Looking anything but nervous or tense on their debut and playing a precise and pacy brand of football, Los Canaleros dominated the opening exchanges against a passive-looking Verde side. That domination was reflected by Blas Perez’s opening goal, though the Bolivians conjured up a second-half equaliser on a rare foray forward. Perez was not to be denied, however. Symbolising the spirit of Hernan Bolillo Gomez’s side, he struck again with four minutes remaining to give enterprising Panama a deserved victory. Later in the day, Argentina went some way to avenging their loss to Chile in the 2015 final. A cut above the defending champions throughout the encounter, despite the absence of Lionel Messi, La Albiceleste eased to a 2-1 win in Santa Clara against an out-of-sorts Roja side that proved blunt in attack.
Highlight of the day
Argentina had the better of the opening 50 minutes of the re-run of last year’s final, putting together some fine moves, enjoying plenty of possession and even hitting the bar early on. Yet for all their endeavour and pressure, they could not find a way past Claudio Bravo in the Roja goal. All that changed five minutes after the restart, however, when Ever Banega dispossessed Eugenio Mena in the midfield, surged forward and laid a measured pass into the path of Di Maria, who took a touch before firing low past the Barcelona keeper at the near post. Embarking on an emotional celebration, the Paris Saint-Germain forward dedicated the goal to his late grandmother, who had passed away the previous evening. “She was so proud that I was in the national team and I knew I was going to score a goal for her,” said Di Maria afterwards.
0 - the number of games in which Chile have beaten Argentina in the history of the Copa America. The rivals from either side of the Andes have faced each other 26 times in the competition, with La Albiceleste winning 19 of those games and drawing the other seven. One of those draws was the goalless stalemate in the 2015 final in Santiago, which the Chileans eventually won 4-1 on penalties to lift the trophy for the first time.
What they said
“It was such a happy occasion for us. We celebrated the goals as if we were world champions. Everyone felt like crying. Panama had some magical moments and the odd crisis or two. Our best spells at the start of the game, before the first goal. South American teams are hard to beat.” Panama coach Hernan Gomez