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Lionel Messi’s Argentina snatches late Copa America winner vs. Chile as Lautaro Martinez bundles in decisive goal for 1-0 win

In a career with absolutely nothing left to prove, Lionel Messi even achieved a first on Tuesday evening.

Twenty-four hours after fans flooded his hotel room with cake and birthday wishes, the Argentine star stepped onto the field at MetLife Stadium as a newly minted 37-year-old.

And after working almost the entire match, he and Argentina would finally get the icing on the cake when Lautaro Martinez fired in a late rebound winner to beat Chile 1-0 in New Jersey.

Overall, this was a deserved victory for Argentina, although it started to look less and less likely the longer Chile continued to survive.

Martinez, a second-half substitute, ensured Argentina took all three points when he scored from a corner in the 88th minute.

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during Chile on Tuesday night at MetLife Stadium

Argentina’s Lionel Messi controls the ball against Chile at the MetLife Stadium on Tuesday evening

A young Argentina fan holds a Lionel Messi sign ahead of the Conmebol 2024 Copa America tournament group A football match between Chile and Argentina

A young Argentina fan holds a Lionel Messi sign ahead of the Conmebol 2024 Copa America tournament group A football match between Chile and Argentina

A young Argentina fan holds a Lionel Messi sign ahead of the Conmebol 2024 Copa America tournament group A football match between Chile and Argentina

The start of the first half was the sort of cagey affair you would expect from a pair of sides who have faced each other twice in the Copa America final.

Chile, after Mauricio Isla’s sharp cross briefly startled their opponents, initially looked happy to relinquish possession but came under increasing pressure as the half progressed.

The first sign of danger came in the 22nd minute: a warning shot from Julian Alvarez, who was found by Nico Gonzalez with a beautiful cross into the penalty area.

The Man City striker’s effort from the penalty area was undercooked and easily collected by Claudio Bravo, but Chile’s cracks were starting to show and Argentina smelled blood.

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They would end a dominant – yet unruly – first 45 with 13 shots to Chile’s 0.

Rodrigo de Paul fired (unsuccessfully) several times from distance, while Alvarez also spurned a number of half-chances, the most promising of which saw him latch onto a bouncing ball with his head as the Chilean defense fell asleep.

That chance, like his earlier attempt from Gonzalez’s feed, was easily neutralized by Bravo as it bounced off the ground into the 41-year-old’s arms.

Messi, who woke up after a foul shortly after Alvarez’s (first) miss and was left in a heap, shot narrowly wide of the post from a distance of 27 meters in the 36th minute.

But his most memorable moment from the first half wasn’t even that close to goal.

Chilean Dario Osorio tries to block a shot from Argentinian Nicolas Tagliafico

Chilean Dario Osorio tries to block a shot from Argentinian Nicolas Tagliafico

Chilean Dario Osorio tries to block a shot from Argentinian Nicolas Tagliafico

Argentinian fans cheer before the Conmebol 2024 Copa America tournament group A football match between Chile and Argentina

Argentinian fans cheer before the Conmebol 2024 Copa America tournament group A football match between Chile and Argentina

Argentinian fans cheer before the Conmebol 2024 Copa America tournament group A football match between Chile and Argentina

At one point he picked up the ball in midfield and effortlessly slalomed past several defenders before dumping it to a teammate. It was the kind of moment he has often produced in his two decades of brilliance when he debuted at 17, and in this case one that caused a rather partial press box to clap their hands in delight.

But Argentina failed to break the deadlock before the first half.

The following period would see La Albiceleste pick up where they left off, with Messi orchestrating the first chance.

He drove through the middle in the 50th minute before feeding Nahuel Molina, who fired straight at Bravo.

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Minutes later, Lisandro Martinez found space during a set piece, but couldn’t quite hit the ball.

It almost came to a head when Gonzalez rattled the crossbar with his left foot in the 61st minute. It was a sign of Argentina’s frustrations on the night when he fouled his opponent immediately afterwards, and shortly afterwards the tide would briefly begin to turn.

Messi looked to have missed his best chance of the match in the 68th minute when he dived over from close range after a perfectly weighted ball over the top, but the play was ruled out for offside and soon Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez was finally left to sweat come.

Chile finally began to find openings in the heart of the Argentine defence, and Rodrigo Echeverría twice forced powerful low saves from Martinez, with the midfielder finding space at the top of the penalty area.

But Argentina kept pushing.

Messi, always daring, was forced to attempt an Olimpico that didn’t quite squeeze in, but forced Bravo to tilt.

The next move saw another corner, a scramble around the box and a confident sidefoot finish from Martinez that Argentina deserved.

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