Feature

Attacking stars set to light up Copa America final

Both Argentina and Chile are desperate to win the 2015 Copa America final, for vastly different reasons. With the firepower at the disposal of both teams, we're in for a classic match.

So will Chile finally have something to put in its trophy cabinet? Or will Argentina win its first senior title since 1993?

There is plenty at stake, then, in the final of the 2015 Copa America. Many treat this tournament as a warm up for the coming World Cup qualifiers, but not these two teams. Chile, as host, is obliged to put on a show, especially given the fact that it has never won the competition. A sense of 'if not now, when?' has hung over Chile in this Copa.

It has probably its best ever generation, with a group of players in their prime with the experience of two World Cups to help them through. The tournament has been set up for them to reach the final – they were in the easiest group, have played all their games in Santiago's Nacional Stadium and have avoided the heavyweights – until now.

As for Argentina, coach Gerardo Martino made a declaration of intent with his squad. There is no experimentation, no grooming of youngsters for the future. Fourteen of the players went to last year's World Cup, and another two took part in South Africa 2010. Indeed, Chile and Argentina have something in common – only three members of their squad were born in the 90s. Everyone else brought more youngsters.

This, then, was the predictable final and also one that promises much. Both teams are front loaded. Chile occasionally varies its tactical formation but, under electric little coach Jorge Sampaoli, does not alter its idea. It wants to play in the opponent's half of the field, it commitc plenty of men forward at pace and it is always seeking to create two against one situations down the flanks.

It is true that playing at home has forced a slight adjustment. Deep lying opponents have not always given Chile the chance to go at pace, so there has been more emphasis on patient possession. This has made playmaker Jorge Valdivia, who scored against Australia last year, even more important to the team.

Amid the frenzy and the frenetic charges, he provides the subtlety. Now 31, Valdivia has long been a frustrating figure, promising much but seemingly lacking the fitness and the dedication to deliver. This, though, has been his tournament. He has dictated the rhythm and kept his attacking colleagues well supplied. There have been few better players on show. He has overshadowed his more famous team-mates Alexis Sanchez (whose form is giving cause for concern in Chile) and Arturo Vidal, who after a bright start has dipped, which may well be a consequence of his drink-driving accident.

Perhaps the Argentine equivalent is Javier Pastore, something of a surprise first team selection in this tournament. Gerardo Martino maintained the 4-3-3 formation used by predecessor Alejandro Sabella (until injuries to his attacking stars in the World Cup forced him down a more cautious road).

But in most of the friendlies played under Martino, the balance of the midfield was more conservative. Sabella had played with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain as the attacking trident, with Angel Di Maria part of the midfield trio. Martino left out Higuain and pushed Di Maria up to the front line, thus making room for an all round midfielder to give the side a better balance.

But in the Copa Martino has been bolder. The extra all round midfielder has been replaced by Pastore. In some of the recent warm up friendlies it was easy to come to the conclusion that Pastore was Messi's deputy, getting a game when the Barcelona genius was unavailable.

They have hardly featured together; the last half hour of a game against Brazil last October, and the first 45 minutes of a game against Portugal a month later. There was little evidence for the view that Martino was going to play them in partnership. But he has, and the move has been a big success. The presence of Pastore allows Messi to be used as a decoy. From his base position wide on the right, Messi is free to roam – and is frequently dropping deep, drawing the markers with him and thus creating space for Pastore to burst in between the lines.

It is a move Argentina has worked again and again. It played a big part in the 1-0 group phase win over Uruguay, and was once more decisive in the 6-1 semi final thrashing of Paraguay.

But everything has its price to pay. The inclusion of Pastore at the expense of an all round midfielder has obvious consequences on the team's defensive solidity. Argentina has found it hard to maintain the intensity of its marking for the full 90 minutes, and it consistently looks vulnerable down the flanks – the very space that will be patrolled by Alexis Sanchez.

On Saturday Sanchez will become Chile's most capped outfield player. Will he mark the occasion with his first grandstand performance of the competition? There is not a great deal of pace in Argentina's defensive unit, and it will surely struggle to stop a Sanchez in full flow.

But at the other end, how on earth is Chile going to deal with Argentina's attacking firepower? True, it will press and compress. But Argentina can send Di Maria galloping down the left, or aim to play over the top for Aguero, thus stretching the game and creating space for Messi and the new sorcerer's apprentice, Pastore.

It could, of course, turn out to be a tight midfield battle, a niggly game giving off much more heat than light. But the fact that both sides can clearly hurt the other – and will surely set out with that as their primary aim – sets the scene for what promises to be a wonderful climax to the 44th Copa America.