SAO PAULO - For a match that didn’t mean much, there was a lot going on as Argentina defeated Chile 2-1 to finish third in the Copa America on Saturday.
It ended with Lionel Messi being sent off and boycotting the medal ceremony to protest the refereeing.
“We shouldn’t take part in this corruption,” an unusually outspoken Messi said. “There was lack of respect toward us during this Copa America. We could have done better, but they didn’t let us make it to the final. Corruption and the referees are not letting the fans enjoy football. This is ruining football.”
Messi had already complained about the refereeing after Argentina’s loss to Brazil in the semifinals, hinting the result was expected because the hosts were allegedly in charge of South American soccer. He said he expected Brazil to win Sunday’s final against Peru, claiming it was already set up for the hosts’ victory.
When asked if he didn’t fear being suspended for his comments, Messi said “the truth needed to be told.”
CONMEBOL, South America’s soccer confederation, later released a statement condemning the “unacceptable” and “baseless accusations” that discredited the Copa America’s integrity.
“In football, sometimes you lose and sometimes you win,” the statement said. “One of the fundamental pillars of fair play is to accept the results and the refereeing decisions with respect.”
Messi was sent off after getting involved in an altercation in a tense third-place game between the rivals from the last two finals of the South American competition.
Veteran Chile midfielder Gary Medel also was red carded after the first-half shoving match with Messi at the Arena Corinthians.
Sergio Agüero and Paulo Dybala scored early for Argentina, and Arturo Vidal put Chile on the board with a second-half penalty kick.
It was a heated match from the start in São Paulo, with many hard fouls from both sides and altercations involving several players.
None was bigger than the one sparked by the Messi-Medel confrontation that led to the red card for both players in the 37th minute.
It started when Medel wasn’t happy that Messi came in from behind to try to gain possession. The Chilean turned around to confront the Argentine star, who didn’t back down. They started to bump into each other with their chests and shoulders and Paraguayan referee Mario Diaz de Vivar came in to immediately send both players off.
“A yellow card should have been enough for both players,” Messi said.