Copa America pays spectacular tribute to Diego Maradona as Lionel Messi scores stunning free kick

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Ahead of Argentina’s 1-1 draw against Chile at Estádio Nilton Santos in Rio de Janeiro, an extraordinary light show with futuristic effects paid homage to “El Pelusa”.

He saw a holographic version of Maradona kicking the ball down the middle of the pitch as the shirt he wore changed between the teams he played for, from Barcelona to Napoli to Newell’s Old Boys.

Argentina were making their first appearance in a major tournament since Maradona’s death, and in their match against Chile they paid him a perfect tribute, with Lionel Messi – considered Maradona’s heir – scoring a glorious free kick .

With 33 minutes of play and the level of scores, Messi curled up just outside the box, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo unable to prevent him from nestling in the corner. It was Messi’s 73rd international goal.

However, despite the absence of star striker Alexis Sanchez, Chile came back strong in the second half, winning a penalty 12 minutes after the break.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez managed to put Arturo Vidal’s attempt on the bar, but Eduardo Vargas picked up the rebound.

Although the draw extends Argentina’s unbeaten streak to 14 games under Lionel Scaloni, Argentina are said to have hoped for a better start to the Copa America campaign.

“This game was complicated for us,” Messi said afterwards. “We had to be calm, have control of possession and play faster. The penalty also changed the game.”

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Messi celebrates with teammates Nicolas Gonzalez and Giovani Lo Celso after scoring a free kick against Chile.
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Although fans were delighted that the Copa América was able to unfold this year, it was not without challenges.

The 47th edition of the competition was originally intended to be jointly organized by Argentina and Colombia, but the organizers decided to withdraw it first from Colombia, due to widespread social unrest in the country, and then also from the ‘Argentina, due to a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro came to the rescue, however, and boasted that the country would bring the tournament to fruition, despite widespread opposition and the country’s struggle to contain the pandemic.

Just two days before the start of the tournament, the Brazilian national team – the Seleção – announced their willingness to participate, although they expressed their open opposition to the tournament in a rare public statement.

According to the World Health Organization, the country has recorded more than 17 million confirmed cases and more than 480,000 deaths. Over 70 million doses of vaccine have been administered.

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Messi watches the ball during the Group A game between Argentina and Chile.

Twelve Venezuelan players and officials tested positive for Covid-19 a day before its opener, along with four members of the Bolivian squad.

According to the Brazilian Ministry of Health on Monday, at least 41 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded among players, members of delegations and providers of the Copa America tournament.

Thirty-one of the cases correspond to players and staff of national teams, and the others concern service providers, according to the ministry.

The positive tests were sent to a lab to identify if the infections are caused by variants of Covid-19. The results are expected to be known within 14 days.

Rodrigo Pedroso contributed to this report.

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