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Argentina's World Cup woes

Five Aside
Read

Argentina, Peru eye World Cup qualification

Five Aside
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For Argentina, bad luck is a major factor in consecutive finals losses

Messi Copa Trophy
The Copa America Centenario final loss against Chile marked another sad chapter in Argentine football history.

NEW JERSEY -- The story keeps repeating itself.

On Sunday, New Jersey's MetLife Stadium played host to a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final between Argentina and Chile that took place in Santiago's Estadio Nacional. Again, Argentina lost on penalties. The defeat marked their third straight final loss at a major competition in a two-year span, with the first coming at the 2014 World Cup.

Of course, there are footballing explanations for Argentina's latest defeat, many of which will be explored in the coming days, but the main reason behind the heartbreak is the extraordinarily bad luck that haunts this generation of Argentine players. This might seem like an easy answer, but there is no greater reason.

In the three encounters -- the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario finals -- Argentina did not lose or concede any goals inside 90 minutes. Against Germany and twice against Chile, they had the better of their opponents. But in football, you don't always get what you deserve. In a final, a single game, the winner is the team that best knows how to combine skill with luck.

Chile was reduced to 10 men before La Albiceleste, and Arturo Vidal missed the first penalty of the shootout. Under normal circumstances, both of these things could prove decisive. But nothing goes as expected for the Argentine national team. Marcos Rojo was dismissed following a reckless challenge before halftime, and Lionel Messi -- yes, Messi -- failed to convert his penalty after Vidal's miss.

Gonzalo Higuain's chances seem to be the best illustrations of Argentina's bad luck. In any other context, his three attempts in three finals would have ended in goals. He's one of the world's top strikers, but he squandered clear opportunities that could have changed the course of all three games.

The purpose of this piece is not to suggest that lady luck is the sole culprit for Argentina's triple failure. Although it is true that luck has a fundamental impact on the game and has always seemed to go against Argentina in recent years, there were multiple footballing and mental errors in Sunday's centennial decider. That fate was not smiling down on La Albiceleste only added to the team's misfortune.

Against Chile, Argentina were fearful at times and nervous at others. Several players -- Angel Di Maria, Rojo, Higuain -- failed to perform to expectations, and there was no collective response. Faced with an opponent who failed to make much of an argument that they should win the game, Argentina could manage only five shots on goal, a figure well below average. Higuain's one-on-one does not count because it was off-target, but it was certainly the clearest chance of the match.

Messi's performance deserves more extensive coverage, but for now, it can be described in one word: emotional. Emotions are not always positive. At times, the captain carried the team on his shoulders, as the only one to stand up and face the challenges head on. He was Argentina's best player by a long shot, but he once again left the field in tears.

This is where bad luck comes back into play: Messi will take dozens of penalties over the rest of his career and will most likely never place another shot so far over the bar.

In closing the 2016 Copa America, it seems this tournament will bring the curtain down on the careers of several national team players. The future does not look very bright, due to the difficulties of the Argentina Football Association and the fact that such defeats make everything increasingly difficult. This group of players, who did everything right until today, failed to handle the pressure of another final and did not have the luck they needed.

That is just the starting point of the analysis in the midst of a great sadness.

Damian Didonato is an ESPN.com Argentina editor based in Buenos Aires. He covered the U20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011 and blogs on O Blog 2014. Follow him on Twitter @damiandidonato.

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