On Monday night, a spectacular tribute was paid to Argentina legend Diego Maradona before the country’s opening game of the Copa América 2021.
In November of last year, Maradona, an Argentine icon and widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, died of heart failure.
An extraordinary light show with futuristic effects paid tribute to “El Pelusa” before Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Chile at Estádio Nilton Santos in Rio de Janeiro.
It featured a holographic Maradona kicking the ball to himself in the centre of the pitch while the shirt he wore changed between the teams he played for, from Barcelona to Napoli to Newell’s Old Boys.
It also paid tribute to some of the most memorable moments from his illustrious career, all of which were framed in the iconic No. 10 shirts he wore, including the wonder goal he scored against England in the 1986 World Cup.
Argentina was playing in its first major tournament since Maradona’s death, and in its match against Chile, Lionel Messi, who is widely regarded as Maradona’s heir, scored a spectacular free-kick.
Messi curled home from just outside the box with 33 minutes played and the scores level, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo unable to prevent it from nestling in the corner. Messi scored his 73rd international goal.
Despite the absence of star attacker Alexis Sanchez, Chile dominated the second half, winning a penalty 12 minutes after the break.
Emiliano Martinez of Aston Villa managed to tip Arturo Vidal’s effort over the bar, only for Eduardo Vargas to head home the rebound.
Argentina’s unbeaten run under coach Lionel Scaloni now stands at 14 games, but the team had hoped for a better 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.”
Although fans will be pleased that the Copa América was able to take place this year, it has not been without its challenges.
The competition was set to be co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia for the 47th edition, but organizers decided to pull it first from Colombia due to widespread social unrest, and then from Argentina due to a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite widespread opposition and the country’s struggle to contain the pandemic, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, came to the rescue and boasted that the country would see the tournament through.
The Brazilian national team, the Seleço, announced its willingness to participate just two days before the tournament began, despite having previously expressed open opposition to the tournament in a rare public statement.
The World Health Organization reports that the country has over 17 million confirmed cases and over 480,000 deaths. Over 70 million vaccine doses have been given out.
A day before the game, twelve Venezuelan players and officials, as well as four Bolivian players, tested positive for Covid-19.
At least 41 cases of Covid-19 have been reported among players, members of delegations, and service providers at the Copa América tournament, according to the Brazilian health ministry on Monday.
According to the ministry, 31 of the cases involve national team players and staff, while the rest involve service providers.
The positive tests were sent to a lab to see if Covid-19 variants were to blame for the infections. Within 14 days, the results should be available.