At last, the wait is over. In a stadium so entrenched in Chile’s history it almost drips from the creaking rafters, a new chapter was written.
The Estadio Nacional, which once housed up to 20,000 citizens during the country’s bloody dictatorship, erupted as Alexis Sanchez cheekily chipped home the winning penalty to end La Roja’s 99-year wait for Copa America success.
The team, hailed at the start of this tournament as the best Chile had ever produced, duly delivered as Argentina lost a second major final in as many summers.
A breathless but goalless 90 minutes was followed by a tense period of extra-time between the two best sides in the competition.
But it was Chile who, at the opposite end to the permanently empty seats that serve as a reminder of lives lost, held their nerve from 12 yards.
Even the Santiago smog had cleared sufficiently for the snow-kissed Andes to provide a stunning backdrop to the closing act of the 44th edition of the South American showpiece.
Chile were one of four nations to have made up the first in 1916 but had never stepped on to the winners’ podium despite reaching the final on four previous occasions while Argentina were looking to quench their own 22-year trophy drought And La Albiceleste had triumphed at the last four Copa Americas held in this country.
The donation of 40,000 flags to the home support by a prominent philanthropist created a wall of red, white and blue with several thousand of their Argentinian counterparts able to get their hands on tickets which had reportedly been on sale for up to £16,000 on the black market Chile boss Jose Sampaoli, tasked with masterminding victory over his homeland, dropped Jose Rojas after a poor performance against Peru in the semi-final.
And having locked himself away and agonised over how best to stop Lionel Messi, he opted to recall Jean Beausejour while Miikel Albornoz made way for Francisco Silva.
With Ezequiel Garay failing to recover from a stomach bug, Martin Demichelis retained his place at the heart of Argentina’s defence as Tata Martino stuck with the side that ran riot against Paraguay in the last four. Six of the line-up also started in the triumphant 2008 Olympic final in Beijing while seven remained from the defeat by Germany at the World Cup.
Chile had betrayed a sense of nervousness against Peru as they perhaps felt the weight of expectation for the first time following a hitherto near-flawless campaign.
But they made a bright start to the final, led by Jorge Valdivia, often more playboy than playmaker, but who had been instrumental in La Roja’s run to the final.
The hosts certainly showed no signs of abandoning their attacking principles in a frenetic start, even if their final deliveries were somewhat lacking. Eduardo Vargas, the hero in the semi-final, burst into the box but dragged his shot wide of the far post before Arturo Vidal broke from deep to volley goalwards only to be denied by a sprawling Sergio Romero.
But after a hesitant opening, Argentina almost broke the deadlock when Sergio Aguero met a near-post free-kick only for Claudio Bravo to react instantly and parry the header to safety.
At the other end, Vargas latched on to an inch-perfect pass before proceeding to blaze his effort wastefully over the bar.
Martino was forced into an unplanned switch on the half-hour mark when Angel di Maria, who had been the victim of persistent and blatant fouling, pulled his hamstring and was replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Chile had used PlayStation technology in an attempt to thrash out out a plan to thwart Messi but but Gary Medel resorted to less refined methods with a mistimed kick to his midriff. — Mailonline
Both sides had opportunities to go into the break in front with Sanchez curling the ball straight at Romero before Lavezzi forced Bravo into a smart stop at the other end.
And it was a similar story after the break with Vidal heading tamely at Argentina’s goalkeeper before the pace finally relented.
Argentina had looked most dangerous from set pieces but even Messi, a shadow of the man who tore Paraguay to shreds, failed to clear the wall with a free-kick from a threatening position.
Sanchez, who had endured a frustrating tournament in front of goal, almost set up his former Colo Colo team-mate Vidal for the opener but his shot at the back post was blocked. Sanchez was again the creator when he supplied Vargas but the former Queens Park Rangers loanee could not direct his shot either side of Romero.
With extra-time looming for the first time in the tournament, a sullen Valdivia refused to acknowledge his replacement Matias Fernandes while Martino turned to Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega.
But neither side looked prepared to grab this final by the scruff of the neck until Sanchez came within inches of winning it with a well-hit volley.
The ever-animated Martino was left incredulous when referee Wilmar Roldan failed to award a penalty after Silva pulled Marcos Rojo to the ground inside the area.
And with the last kick of normal time, Higuain missed a glorious chance when he could only turn Lavezzi’s slightly overhit pass into the side netting after a rare solo run from Messi.
With legs tiring and tempers fraying, Marcelo Diaz curled an effort over the bar in extra-time before Sanchez took advantage of Javier Mascherano’s slip to scamper clear but, as a nation held its collective breath, the Arsenal forward failed to hit the target.
A rousing rendition of the Chilean national anthem preceded the shoot-out with deafening whistles accompanying each Argentinian effort.
Messi made no mistake but his strike was rendered meaningless when Higuain fired high into the stand before Banega’s weak effort was comfortably saved by Bravo.
Vidal, who had squeezed home his own penalty, immediately broke rank and sprinted half the length of the pitch to congratulate his captain before returning to watch Sanchez finish the job.
And a ground that has witnessed such sorrow, smiled again.