Copa América pay spectacular effect-laden Diego Maradona tribute as Lionel Messi scores stunning free-kick

4 months ago 42

(CNN)A spectacular tribute was paid to Argentina legend Diego Maradona before the nation's opening game of the 2021 Copa América on Monday night.

Maradona, an Argentine icon and widely considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, died after suffering heart failure in November last year.

Before Argentina's 1-1 draw against Chile at Estádio Nilton Santos in Rio de Janiero, an extraordinary light show with futuristic effects paid tribute to "El Pelusa."

    It saw a holographic version of Maradona kick the ball to himself in the center of the pitch while the shirt he wore changed between the teams he used to play for, from Barcelona to Napoli to Newell's Old Boys.

      It also paid homage to some iconic moments from his glittering career, all framed in the iconic No. 10 he used to wear, in particular the wonder goal he scored against England in the 1986 World Cup.

      Argentina was making its first major tournament appearance since Maradona's passing, and in its game against Chile, it paid the perfect tribute to him, with Lionel Messi -- seen as Maradona's heir -- scoring a glorious free-kick.

      With 33 minutes played and the scores level, Messi curled home from just outside the box, with goalkeeper Claudio Bravo unable to stop it from nestling in the corner. It was Messi's 73rd international goal.

      However, despite missing star attacker Alexis Sanchez, Chile came on strong in the second half, winning a penalty 12 minutes after the break.

      Aston Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez was able to tip Arturo Vidal's attempt onto the bar, only for Eduardo Vargas to head home the rebound.

      Although the draw extends Argentina's unbeaten run to 14 games under coach Lionel Scaloni, it would have been hoping for a stronger start to its Copa América campaign.

      "This match got complicated for us," Messi said afterwards. "We needed to be calm, have control of possession and play more quickly. The penalty changed the match, too."

      Messi celebrates with teammates Nicolas Gonzalez and Giovani Lo Celso after scoring a free-kick against Chile.

      More cases

      Although fans will have been excited that the Copa América was able to go ahead this year, it hasn't been without challenges.

      The 47th edition of the competition was originally to be joint-hosted by Argentina and Colombia, but organizers decided to pull it first from Colombia, due to the country's widespread social unrest, and then also from Argentina, due to a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

      Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro came to the rescue though and boasted the country would see the tournament through, 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 its willingness to participate, despite having voiced its 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 over 480,000 deaths. More than 70 million vaccine doses have been administered.

      Messi looks at the ball during the Group A match between Argentina and Chile.

      Twelve Venezuelan players and officials tested positive for Covid-19 a day before its opening game, as well as four members of the Bolivian team.

      According to the Brazilian health ministry on Monday, there have been at least 41 cases of Covid-19 recorded among players, members of delegations, and service providers of the Copa América tournament.

        Thirty-one of the cases correspond to national teams' players and staff, and the rest are among service providers, according to the ministry.

        The positive tests were sent to a laboratory to identify whether the infections are caused by Covid-19 variants. Results are expected known within 14 days.

        Rodrigo Pedroso contributed to this report.

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