There was only one star of the show at last night’s Copa America final between Argentina and Chile, a second consecutive showpiece match between the two to end goalless after 90 minutes before a surprise Chilean penalty victory.
Not Lionel Messi, the finest footballer of his generation, nor his supporting cast of stars. Not Alexis Sanchez, Chile’s best player, who has lit up the Premier League for Arsenal over the last two years.
No, the one box office performance of the night came from Heber Lopes, the Brazilian referee inexplicably given control of the biggest match in South American football despite averaging more cards than Raheem Sterling on father’s day.
— William Hill Aus (@WillHillAus) June 27, 2016
Slight shirt pull? That’s a booking. Possible simulation? That’s a booking. Lionel Messi runs into you with absolutely nowhere else for you to go? You’d better believe that’s a booking.
— Alex Moretto (@alexjmoretto) June 27, 2016
Lopes inevitably harshly sent off Marcelo Diaz and Marcos Rojo, lost control of the game within minutes and embarked on a successful crusade to make every moment about him. Every card was delivered with a flourish, every free-kick awarded with a particularly stiff, self-assured finger. Lopes looked like a man who knew that he belonged on such a stage.
It may be an unpopular opinion, but for me there are few finer sights in the game than a referee stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight. So keen to make his mark was Lopes that, at one point in extra time, he actually brought a Lionel Messi run to an abrupt end with a fine blocking tackle.
On a night when Messi was unable to really control the game and the likes of Sanchez and Arturo Vidal only shone occasionally rather than sparkled, we should be grateful to Lopes for taking this final by the scruff of the net and making it memorable. Fine work, sir.