NFL

NFL Talking Point: Is there a true frontrunner in the NFC?

By Sports Desk September 23, 2022

Is two games enough of a sample size to glean pertinent information about an NFL team's prospects? Probably not.

Has that ever stopped anyone from making definitive statements about teams and the potential outcome of their season? You already know the answer to that one.

But one thing nobody -- not even the loudest talking head -- can say for certain is that they know who the frontrunner is in the NFC.

In the AFC, plenty are already falling over themselves to crown the Buffalo Bills. An extremely compelling case can be made for the Chiefs and maybe even the Los Angeles Chargers if they can keep Justin Herbert from further injury.

The NFC, though? That's an extremely tough conference to decipher at this early stage.

That is not to say there aren't standout teams. To the contrary, there are six that look to have an excellent shot of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl as they all reside in the top 10 of Stats Perform's power rankings.

Two of them will face off at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Green Bay Packers in what could be the final meeting between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who met in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago. The Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams will visit the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of last year's title game in Week 4.

But which of that group has the best shot? Stats Perform has used its advanced data to examine the case for each of the six.
 

Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 2-0

Power ranking: 1

The Eagles have firmly lived up to their offseason hype so far, with Jalen Hurts piloting an efficient offense that is the most explosive in the NFL through two weeks.

Indeed, the Eagles are fourth in yards per play on offense while, prior to Thursday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, no team in the NFL had produced more plays of 10 yards or more than Philadelphia's 39.

A.J. Brown, their blockbuster draft-day trade acquisition, has quickly built a superb rapport with Hurts. The former Tennessee Titans wide receiver has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 14 of his 21 targets and is averaging 8.2 burn yards per route (the league average is 3.6).

The threat Hurts provides in the run game has helped Philadelphia rack up 189.5 yards per game on the ground, second only to the Browns. While a small sample size, the Eagles' early success on the ground is illustrative of just how difficult they are to stop with the diversity of their attack.

There's more reason for doubt on defense, with a three-interception effort against the Minnesota Vikings in which the Eagles allowed only seven points following a 38-35 shootout with the Detroit Lions. Yet a very favourable schedule may not see any defensive failings properly tested until Week 12 against the Packers and allow Philadelphia to move into prime position to compete for the NFC's top seed.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Record: 2-0

Power ranking: 4

Tampa Bay's average margin of victory across two games is 13 points. The Bucs eased past the Dallas Cowboys 19-3 and eventually emerged from a fist fight with the New Orleans Saints as 20-10 victors.

Yet it's tough to declare their start to the season as overly impressive, at least by Brady's lofty standards.

The Bucs have scored only two offensive touchdowns as they have battled injuries at the wide receiver position and struggles on the much-changed interior of the offensive line.

Rather than Brady making a hot start to the season he initially decided against playing, it is the Bucs' defense that has led the way.

There were 182 seconds left in their game with the Saints by the time they surrendered a touchdown for the first time this season, with the Bucs conceding only 4.25 yards per play, the third-fewest in the NFL.

Rodgers and Green Bay will provide an early and stern test of their credentials, but there is evidence to suggest the Bucs will eventually have a recipe for a potential second championship run in three seasons.

For all the protection issues in front of him, Brady has delivered a well-thrown ball on 81.7 per cent of his pass attempts and has thrown just one pickable pass in 60 throws. Given the defense's level of play and the weapons the Bucs still have to return, it stands to reason they will soon be delivering much more complete performances that will greatly enhance their reputation as contenders.

Los Angeles Rams

Record 1-1

Power ranking: 3

Thrashed by Buffalo on the night they raised their Super Bowl banner before having to survive a remarkable late scare against the lowly Atlanta Falcons, the Rams do not look like a team ready to repeat.

They still sit third in the power rankings, but there are plenty of red flags surrounding the Rams in this embryonic season.

It is the pass protection that stands as the most pressing concern, Matthew Stafford was under constant duress in the opener and injuries up front have hurt the Rams' cause further, hindering Stafford to the point where he is averaging almost half a yard under expectation in expected passing situations.

With 58 total points allowed, there are clearly vast improvements to be made on defense, too.

However, Aaron Donald already has a league-leading 17 pressures and Jalen Ramsey came up with the game-clinching interception in the endzone against Atlanta, and that often decisive star power makes the Rams a tough team to count out, especially with a game against an Arizona Cardinals team they have consistently dominated on the horizon in Week 3.

San Francisco 49ers

Record 1-1

Power ranking: 5

The greatest threat to the Rams from inside their own division comes from the team who suffered an injury that would have ended the hopes of most teams in the league.

San Francisco lost quarterback Trey Lance in just his second game of his first season as starter in the 49ers' 27-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Yet, by keeping Jimmy Garoppolo around on a restructured contract, the 49ers gave themselves an insurance policy, one that can keep them firmly in the mix even without Lance.

Garoppolo has helped the 49ers to the brink of Super Bowl glory in the 2019 season and the NFC Championship Game last term and, while the Niners' ceiling without Lance is perhaps lowered, the floor of Super Bowl-calibre roster has been raised by the former New England Patriot's return to the line-up.

Though they suffered an upset at the hands of a Chicago Bears in Week 1, the 49ers have one of the most complete rosters in the league and their defense is off to a magnificent start, allowing the second-fewest yards per play (4.08) in the NFL.

It was anticipated the safety position may be a weakness. Instead, it has so far been an unexpected strength, as has an inexperienced and remodelled offensive line that has won 81.6 per cent of its pass-blocking matchups. It will be tough to identify an obvious flaw on this team if the pass protection continues to excel, with the play in the trenches made even more critical because of Garoppolo's long injury history.

Minnesota Vikings

Record: 1-1

Power ranking: 8

Hopes the Vikings could become one of the most dynamic offensive teams in football under Kevin O'Connell were damaged by Monday's 24-7 defeat to the Eagles.

Despite another vintage primetime meltdown from Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have the makeup of a team that could contend to go deep in the NFC playoffs if things break right.

They demonstrated how dangerous O'Connell's offense can be in their opening win over the Packers, with Justin Jefferson weaponised by the former Rams assistant's complex attack.

Even though he was kept in check by Philadelphia, Jefferson's 8.5 burn yards per target are the fifth-most among receivers with at least 10 targets in the first two games.

The offensive line remains a problem, but the early signs are that the Vikings' defensive front will be one that tilts games in their favour, having already registered six sacks for negative yardage.

Cousins is delivering the ball accurately, posting a well-thrown rate of 86.5 per cent and, though there are questions about his ability to perform under the brightest spotlight, a schedule that features 10 games against 2021 non-playoff teams could give the Vikings the edge of their division rivals in the fight to get to the NFL's postseason pressure cooker.

Green Bay Packers

Record: 1-1

Power ranking: 9

The Packers got the poor start out of the way in a Week 1 loss in Minnesota that left Aaron Rodgers visibly exasperated. Normal service was resumed, however, in the routine Week 2 win over the Bears.

Green Bay's problem is that the Packers have a roster in which several holes can be picked. The offensive line has struggled amid left tackle David Bakhtiari's prolonged absence, while the Packers' hopes of fixing their continually porous run defense have not come to pass as yet. They have surrendered 5.56 yards per play on the ground, the fourth-most in the NFL.

Rodgers has yet to build a rapport with a young receiver corps as the Packers look to put the Davante Adams saga and eventual trade to the Las Vegas Raiders behind them. Though the lack of a connection may be more down to a paucity of faith in his inexperienced wideouts' ability to catch the ball, rather than any worries about their success in creating separation.

Second-round pick Christian Watson has recorded an impressive 14.4 burn yards per target on the small sample size of seven targets. With Rodgers delivering a well-thrown ball on 89.3 per cent of his attempts, it might not be too long before Watson becomes a more integral part of the passing game, though the diversity the Packers gain through having running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon on the field at the same time can keep the offense performing efficiently regardless of how the wideouts progress.

Jones, unquestionably one of the most complete backs in the NFL, has produced a big play on three of his eight targets this season, with defenses forced to respect both the run and the pass when he and Dillon line up in two-running back personnel groupings.

The Packers' secondary, despite being shredded by Jefferson in Week 1, is in the top 12 in open percentage allowed while the strength of their defensive line has Green Bay in the top 12 in pass rush win percentage.

Both the front and the back of the Green Bay defense have the talent to rise much higher on those lists and, if such strides are accompanied by Rodgers developing an understanding with his new weapons, the Packers will likely soon have a compelling case for being the conference's elite.

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  • Euro 2024 tops and flops: Yamal sparkles, France frustrated and Ronaldo fluffs his lines Euro 2024 tops and flops: Yamal sparkles, France frustrated and Ronaldo fluffs his lines

    Spain are Euro 2024 champions.

    La Roja got the job done on Sunday in Berlin, with Mikel Oyarzabal's late effort seeing off England in a 2-1 victory.

    But with the tournament now done and dusted, which teams and players really stood out and, conversely, which ones disappointed?

    Here, with the help of Opta data, we take a look.

    THE TOPS

    Spain

    An obvious one, but where else to start but with the champions? La Roja crashed out of the 2022 World Cup, losing to Morocco on penalties, but what Luis de la Fuente has done since replacing Luis Enrique is outstanding.

    While Luis Enrique had a possession obsession. De la Fuente has added a direct aspect to that possession-based build-up. Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal (more on him to come) were fantastic, while Rodri and Fabian Ruiz dovetailed brilliantly in midfield.

    Dani Olmo surely put himself into the shop window for Europe's elite with some superb individual displays, first from the bench and then as a starter. He shared the Golden Boot, scoring three goals.

    In defence, Marc Cucurella was picked ahead of Bayer Leverkusen's excellent Alejandro Grimaldo, but more than repaid De la Fuente's faith with some tenacious performances, while he then teed up Oyazarbal's winner in the final.

    Spain were simply the best team at this tournament, winning all seven of their matches without needing penalties.

    Since the 2002 Champions League final, Spanish teams and the Spanish national team have played in 23 major finals (Champions League, UEFA Cup, Europa League, World Cup, European Championship) against non-Spanish teams and won the trophy on all 23 occasions.

    La Roja are now the first team to win the Euros on four occasions, too. Vamos!

    Lamine Yamal 

    A special word for Williams, who became the second-youngest player to score in a Euros final, but Yamal was the star of the show.

    Having turned 17 on Saturday, Yamal is now the youngest player to appear in a Euros or World Cup final, surpassing Pele's record from 1958.

    The Barcelona winger curled in a sensational equaliser against France in the last four to become the youngest player to score at the Euros, while he also supplied four assists throughout the tournament.

    He is the first Spain player to register four assists in a single European Championship. It is also the joint most any player has ever assisted at a Euros that Opta has on record (from 1980 onwards).

    This kid is special.

    Niclas Fullkrug

    Julian Nagelsmann's free-flowing, attacking football caught the eye as the host nation impressed, and German football looks to have a bright future following a few years in the wilderness. But for all the flair of youngsters Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz, and the neat and tidy build-up play, Germany were arguably more potent when they had a classic number nine on the pitch.

    Fullkrug was that man, coming on from the bench to score twice, including a last-gasp equaliser against Switzerland in the group stage that ultimately landed Germany in the tougher half of the draw, while he also went agonisingly close to sending the tie against Spain to penalties.

    Fresh from helping Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League final, Fullkrug has now scored seven goals under Nagelsmann for Germany, more than any other player.

    The main debate is probably whether he should be leading the line from the off, rather than having to settle for a super-sub role, given that of any player to score at least twice at the tournament, Fullkrug had the best minutes per goal ratio (80.5).

    Giorgi Mamardashvili

    Mamardashvili actually conceded more goals at Euro 2024 than any other goalkeeper (eight), but it is worth noting that four of those came in the last 16 against Spain.

    And Georgia's shot-stopper deserves his place on this list of the standout performers.

    After a fantastic season in LaLiga with Valencia, Mamardashvili finished as the goalkeeper with the most goals prevented (4.67) based on Opta's expected goals on target (xGoT) conceded model.

    Mamardashvili made 30 saves in total, with a save percentage of 78.95%. Could he now be in for a big move ahead of next season?

    Turkiye

    It came three years later than many expected, but Turkiye - supposedly dark horses at Euro 2020 - finally impressed this time around.

    Vincenzo Montella gave youth a chance in Germany, where Turkiye were buoyed by their fanatical support, giving six starts to teenagers – three for Kenan Yildiz and three for Arda Guler – a joint-record in a single edition of the finals, along with Spain at Euro 2020.

    Guler was a standout performer. He became one of only three teenagers to both score and assist a goal at a single Euros, after Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo (both at Euro 2004).

    The Real Madrid youngster provided his second assist as Turkiye came unstuck against the Dutch in the quarters; there had been just two occasions on record (since 1968) of a teenager providing multiple assists at a single tournament in each of the 14 previous editions combined (Enzo Scifo 1984, Ronaldo 2004).

    Ultimately, the Netherlands had too much for Turkiye, but their last-16 defeat of Austria and Montella's front-foot approach saw them win admirers, and make up somewhat for losing all of their matches at Euro 2020.

    THE FLOPS

    France

    Didier Deschamps is the most successful French coach in terms of wins - indeed, Les Bleus' victory over Austria on matchday one meant he brought up a century of victories.

    But it is fair to say France, World Cup runners-up in 2022, did not impress in Germany. Indeed, it was not until the semi-finals that one of their players even managed to score a goal from open play, with their strikes before then having come via two own goals and a Kylian Mbappe penalty.

    Mbappe did break his Euros duck with that successfully converted spot-kick against Poland, but the broken nose he suffered in the opening game seemed to knock France's focus, and they never got back on track.

    And their 2-1 loss to Spain in that thrilling semi-final showed that a team cannot just bundle its way through a tournament without playing well; eventually, it will catch up with you.

    The pre-tournament favourites could point to some bad fortune, as they did record the fourth-highest non-penalty xG figure of any team at Euro 2024 (8.38), but Deschamps' team looked short of ideas at times, with Antoine Griezmann also struggling to wield his usual influence.

    Italy

    The holders were hardly well fancied ahead of Euro 2024, but it really was a forgettable attempt at defending their title from Italy. The Azzurri fell behind to the earliest goal in Euros history, after just 23 seconds, in their opening match against Albania, and while they came back to win that match, it was the only triumph they managed.

    Indeed, Italy were heading out until Mattia Zaccagni curled home in the 97th minute against Croatia, sealing a point that sent them through, but they had been comfortably beaten by Spain and subsequently capitulated without much of a fight against Switzerland in the last 16.

    Luciano Spalletti only took over in September 2023 after Roberto Mancini's sudden departure, but there's plenty of work for the former Napoli boss to do.

    Cristiano Ronaldo

    The Euros' record goalscorer could not add to his tally, not that it was down to a lack of trying. Indeed, Ronaldo had 23 shots without scoring at Euro 2024, with only another Portuguese great, Deco, having more attempts without registering at least one goal in a single edition of the Euros (24 at Euro 2004).

    This was surely Ronaldo's final Euros. He has played at six of them, becoming the only player to do so, but it is time to bow out.

    Portugal flattered to deceive the whole way through, one emphatic win over Turkiye aside, and never got back on track after losing 2-0 to Georgia at the end of the group stage. Roberto Martinez's team staggered past Slovenia on penalties, before ultimately losing by the same method to France.

    Now, it should be time for Ronaldo, who was the biggest expected goals underperformer at the tournament, failing to score from 3.6 xG, to pass the baton over to the next generation. But will he want one more shot at the World Cup?

    Harry Kane

    Unlike Ronaldo, Kane did score. Indeed, the England captain ended up sharing the Golden Boot, as one of six players with three goals to his name.

    However, that does not wholly tell the story of what was a frustrating tournament for the 30-year-old.

    Kane was taken off 60 minutes into the final, having also gone off in the semi-final and quarter-final when England were level.

    Across his seven appearances, he had just 27 touches in the opposition box (3.8 per game). Indeed, a startling statistic for England fans is that, across the last two Euros finals, Kane had just one touch in the opponents' area.

    Scotland

    Going up against the hosts in the opening game was never going to be easy, but that 5-1 hammering in Munich set the tone for a dismal tournament for Scotland.

    Steve Clarke's team had peaked in qualifying, and though an admirable performance in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland gave them some hope, they came unstuck at the death against Hungary.

    They exited the competition having had just 17 shots, nine fewer than any other team, and mustering an xG of just 0.95, the lowest figure in the competition.

    Romelu Lukaku

    It was another tournament to forget for Belgium, and one has to wonder why Domenico Tedesco's team were so lacklustre against Ukraine in their final group game, when a win could have ensured they would fall into the easier half of the draw (albeit they would have faced the Netherlands, rather than France, in the last 16).

    But matters might have been different had Lukaku had his shooting boots on, too.

    It is quite extraordinary that Lukaku did not manage to find the net. VAR was the bane of his existence in Belgium's shock loss to Slovakia.

    Based on his xG (1.7), Lukaku should have netted at least once, probably twice, but instead, he headed home without a goal to his name.

  • Martinez rises from the chaos and leads Argentina to Copa America glory Martinez rises from the chaos and leads Argentina to Copa America glory

    This was not the potential Copa America farewell that Lionel Messi had dreamed of.

    With a little over an hour played in Miami, where he is tearing through MLS sides on a weekly basis, the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner was in tears as he trudged off with an apparent ankle injury.

    The next Copa America is not until 2028; Messi will be beyond 40 - surely, this was his last appearance in the competition in which he has now played more games than any other player?

    For Messi's individual pain, though, there was national glory. Unlike Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2024, with Portugal crashing out in the quarters, Argentina have gone the distance and, for a third successive major tournament, come out as the top dogs. They beat Colombia 1-0 on Sunday and claimed a record-setting 16th Copa America title.

    But if the 2021 Copa America and 2022 World Cup were all about their magical number 10, this time around, Lautaro Martinez provided the spark.

    Martinez has not been a regular starter under Lionel Scaloni. He endured a difficult World Cup in Qatar on a personal level, failing to score from 14 shots and an accumulated xG of 1.81.

    Yet in the United States, on the back of a fantastic season with Inter, Martinez has shown there is life after Messi for Argentina.

    Despite having already scored four goals at the tournament to lead the Golden Boot race ahead of kick-off against Colombia, which was delayed by over an hour due to crowd trouble outside the Hard Rock Stadium, Martinez was not called upon until seven minutes into extra time.

    It had, to that point, been an attritional encounter. Sure, plenty of shots (14 for Colombia, seven for Argentina) but Nicolas Gonzalez's disallowed goal and a strike off the post from Jhon Cordoba were the closest either team came. The second half alone, meanwhile, featured 13 fouls as the darker side of South American football reared its head.

    This was not a game for flair. James Rodriguez, the Player of the Tournament, still got on the ball for Colombia when he could - he created three chances and played a match-leading 20 passes into the final third. Angel Di Maria, in his final match before international retirement, provided some spark for Argentina with three key passes of his own.

    But it was Martinez who would make himself the (unlikely) hero. Five minutes after his introduction, he was put through by fellow substitute Giovani Lo Celso and, with his only shot of the night, coolly put Argentina ahead.

    Jubilation for Argentina, who continued the pattern that began in 1983, which consists of alternating two-time champions and new winners at the Copa America. 

    Deflation, though, for Colombia, whose long unbeaten streak came to an end after 27 games, and their 23-year wait for a second Copa America title will roll on to become 27 years, at least. Will they get a better chance, especially after seeing Messi go off?

    Argentina had less possession than their opponents for the first time since the semi-finals against Croatia in the last World Cup, with Colombia seeing 55.7% of the ball.

    But even if Messi, who scored only once across the tournament, was not at his fluid best, or even available at all, Argentina proved they can win without him. After he dragged them to glory in Qatar, Messi had to watch on - with his ankle swelling - from the sidelines as Martinez got Argentina over the line.

    This victory is one that has been built on a spectacularly solid defence, too. Argentina conceded only once in six games, in the quarter-final against Ecuador, which they won on penalties. Among the teams that played at least five matches in any edition of the Copa America, only four conceded fewer than two goals: Argentina in 2024 (one), Colombia in 2001 (0), Brazil in 1989 (one) and 2019 (one).

    And what of Messi, then? 

    At 37 years and 20 days old, he became the oldest player to start a Copa America final in the 21st century. He is also the first player to play in five finals (2007, 2015, 2016, 2021 and 2024), surpassing Javier Mascherano (2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016).

    He had not been substituted in a Copa America match since July 2007, also in a meeting with Colombia, but needs must.

    If this was, as expected, his farewell appearance in the competition, he goes out a two-time champion and with 14 goals to his name, three short of the tournament's record scorers.

    Martinez, meanwhile, has completed his redemption arc. His tally of five goals not only wins him the Golden Boot, but also matches the best effort by an Argentine at the Copa America since the turn of the century (along with Messi in 2016 and Juan Roman Riquelme in 2007).

    His goals came from just 221 minutes of action, and he started just two of Argentina's six matches.

    Colombia will lick their wounds, but so too must CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. 

    Passions run high in South American football, and the Americas in general, but the United States will be hosting a World Cup in two years' time. The chaos outside the stadium gates, which resulted in hundreds if not thousands of fans entering without tickets, and the match being delayed, does not reflect well at all.

    Like Martinez in an international shirt, those governing bodies must up their games. 

  • Argentina 1-0 Colombia (aet): Lautaro Martinez's extra-time strike seals Copa America crown Argentina 1-0 Colombia (aet): Lautaro Martinez's extra-time strike seals Copa America crown

    Lautaro Martinez struck an extra-time winner as Argentina edged out Colombia 1-0 to win their second successive Copa America title, despite losing Lionel Messi to injury.

    The Inter forward climbed off the bench to break Los Cafeteros' hearts in the 112th minute in Miami, where kick-off had been delayed for 82 minutes due to crowd disruption outside the stadium. 

    La Albiceleste headed into extra time without Messi, who left the field in tears in the 66th minute after sustaining an ankle injury.

    Nevertheless, Lautaro Martinez stepped up in his skipper's absence, slotting past Colombia goalkeeper Camilo Vargas to deliver his nation's record-breaking 16th Copa triumph.

    Both sides demonstrated their attacking intent early on. Julian Alvarez fired wide inside the opening 60 seconds, while Jhon Cordoba's volley clipped the outside of the post six minutes later.

    Emiliano Martinez held onto a Carlos Cuesta header and, at the other end, Alvaraz inadvertently took the sting out of Lionel Messi's goalbound effort on 20 minutes.

    As the final remained in the balance, Jefferson Lerma fired narrowly wide from distance, while Nicolas Tagliafico headed over from a Messi free-kick just before the break.

    Colombia created the better opportunities in the early stages of the second half. Santiago Arias drilled wide and Davinson Sanchez headed over from a James Rodriguez corner.

    At the other end, Camilo Vargas pushed away Angel Di Maria's effort from a tight angle, before a distraught Messi was forced off injured as the game headed into the final quarter.

    Messi's replacement Nicolas Gonzalez thought he had broken the deadlock in the 75th minute, but Argentina were denied by the offside flag as the game headed for extra time.

    Gonzalez went close again five minutes into the first period, with Vargas scrambling across to thwart him on the line.

    A penalty shootout loomed but, with eight minutes remaining, two Argentina substitutes combined with Giovani Lo Celso feeding Lautaro Martinez, whose composed finish snatched the Copa from under Colombia's noses.

    Super sub Lautaro seals Argentina's successful title defence

    Having scored from the bench in Argentina's opening two Group A games against Canada and Chile, Lautaro Martinez chose an ideal moment to complete a hat-trick of such strikes in this tournament.

    Combining with fellow substitute Lo Celso, the Inter forward netted his fifth goal in the United States to secure the Golden Boot award.

    La Albiceleste needed a hero after Messi limped off on a bittersweet night for the skipper.

    The first player to feature in five Copa America finals, at 37 years and 20 days, he was also the oldest player to start one in the 21st century.

    However, there was to be no match-winning contribution this time in a tournament at which he has been plagued by niggling injuries.

    Messi's international future is uncertain but team-mates Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi - both of whom donned the captain's armband following his withdrawal - sign off with another major international honour under their belts.

    Courageous Colombia come up short

    While Argentina captured their 16th Copa, Colombia were seeking just the second in their history.

    Los Cafeteros claimed their sole triumph on home soil in 2001, notably recording three successive clean sheets in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.

    It looked like Nestor Lorenzo's current crop of players could follow suit 23 years later, as they more than held their own with the reigning Copa and world champions.

    But La Albiceleste - the last team to beat them before they embarked on their record-breaking 28-match unbeaten run - proved their nemesis once more, with Lautaro Martinez's strike breaking that streak, and breaking their hearts.

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