Ángel Di Maria rises and leads Argentina to win against Costa Rica

Henry Tran - The Sporting Tribune
Facing death threats did not stop Ángel Di Maria from helping Argentina beat Costa Rica as they score 3 goals in the second half to defeat Los Ticos at the Coliseum.

LOS ANGELES — The reigning FIFA World Cup champions rallied from behind to score three goals in their 3-1 win against Costa Rica at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last night in the second of their US exhibition friendlies to end their international break ahead of the Copa América in June with two consecutive wins.

They displayed their near flawlessness conceding just 1 goal while scoring 6, without their talisman skipper Lionel Messi, who was withdrawn from the roster after aggravating a hamstring injury during Inter Miami’s CONCACAF Champions Cup match against Nashville earlier this month.

Argentina Men’s National Team during International Friendly vs Costa Rica. Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Henry Tran/The Sporting Tribune)

The action of the first half was reminiscent of David versus Goliath resulting in a 1-goal lead from the underdogs. Despite an onslaught of nearly a dozen shots directed at Los Ticos’ goal in the first half, Argentina’s three on target were all saved heroically by PSG’s Keylor Navas. Meanwhile, Costa Rica did not create any goal scoring chances up until a counterattack in the 34th minute as Álvaro Zamora’s initial shot was blocked by Walter Benítez, but Manfred Ugalde followed through to score off the rebound.

Ángel Di Maria, who wore the captain’s armband for La Albiceleste, in true leadership fashion, was the first to break the dam. An out-of-practice Navas, who has played in just two Ligue 1 matches after a lengthy injury recovery, finally relented to the pressure as the UEFA Champions League winner shot a free kick from 25-yards out that curled over the wall beating the goalkeeper to level the score in the 52nd minute. As the lesser-known legend from Rosario soaked in the applause and cheers from the crowd, he blew a kiss to the loyal fans who were a small but mighty presence. His goal echoed implications well beyond the walls of the stadium. The cheers and jubilation bellowing from all around the captain drowned out any lingering concerns that the his sharpness on the pitch was at all negatively impacted by the death threat received by his relatives just the day before.

Di Maria’s goal opened the flood gates for Argentina’s scoring efforts just four minutes later from a corner kick that resulted in a Nicolás Tagliafico rebound off the crossbar straight to Alexis Mac Allister who scored to give Argentina a 2-1 lead. The final goal of the night came as Lautaro Martínez ended his 18-month goal draught scoring off a pass from De Paul in the 77th minute. With the result, Argentina have won 11 of their 12 matches since their FIFA World Cup Final victory in December 2022.

Di Maria, the 36-year-old winger who won five league titles in France alone (with PSG) and has played in five countries, has been on a journey likely heading home first with a return to Benfica in 2023, and has expressed interest in rejoining his boyhood club Rosario Central where he made his debut in 2005. According to the news portal Infobae, the threat was received at Di Maria’s family home on the outskirts of Rosario, during a wave of drug-related violence in the city that he and Messi are from. “Tell your son Angel not to come back to Rosario because we will kill a family member,” the message read.  

While Di Maria did not speak after the friendly, his teammate Rodrigo De Paul addressed the media. “I know well everything that happened there, and it seems very serious to me. I think that the love he has for his country, for his city, for his club, does not change,” he explained. “He will then have to determine what decision he makes because it is not easy. They were very strong things. He knows that we are with him, that today he has played the game that he did, and that the ovation that he received for us today is very important.”

After the match, Lionel Scaloni told media that only two of the coveted spots are currently guaranteed for the summer’s Copa America tournament. “Only Messi and Di María have their places guaranteed in the Copa América,” he declared. The two captains have certainly earned their rightful places as leaders for their teams as well as leaders for their country.

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