Angel di Maria scored the goal that helped Argentina clinch the Copa America title after 28 years and fulfill Lionel Messi’s dream but Rodrigo de Paul was the unsung hero.
The Copa America 2021 final between Brazil and Argentina at the Maracana was evenly poised. Both sides were 0-0 after half-time. Both teams were giving it all. Neymar and Lionel Messi, the talisman of both sides, were been marked effectively. In the 52nd minute, the deadlock was broken. A long pass from mid-field perfectly found Angel di Maria. He chipped it over the Brazilian goalkeeper and Argentina took the lead.
That was to be the only goal in the Copa America final. Di Maria, scarred in 2014 of not being allowed to start in the World Cup final because of pressure from Real Madrid, had scripted his own tail of redemption. Lionel Messi’s pain had finally ended. Argentina’s long 28-year wait was finally over. The heartbreaks from 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 were all eliminated when Messi lifted the Copa America trophy. Finally, the greatest player of all time had won a major international tournament. The person, who made that pass, later commented, “We did it for Lionel Messi.” The person who said it was 27-year-old Rodrigo de Paul
The win was possible due to the pass that was made from the midfield by Rodrigo de Paul. The Argentina midfielder was the ultimate difference in the Copa America final. It was his play in the midfield that allowed Messi and di Maria to explore other options.
Rodrigo de Paul was the difference-maker for Argentina in the Copa America 2021 edition. His control in the midfield and his assists were simply marvelous. He did not even allow the Brazilians many scoring opportunities. The way how he controlled the game in the middle made up for a rather quiet day for Lionel Messi. Had it not been for the finesse of De Paul, Argentina might have struggled.
Rodrigo de Paul was born in Sarandi, Greater Buenos Aires. He joined Racing Club’s youth setup in 2002, aged eight. However, his first major break came with Valencia when they acquired him from Racing for USD 6.5 million. De Paul signed a five-year deal with Los Che on 6 June and made his La Liga debut on 23 August under head coach Nuno Espirito Santo.
De Paul scored his first goal for the club on 4 December 2014 in the 2-1 win against Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey. He followed this up with his first La Liga goal against Athletic Bilbao. He made 29 appearances in all competitions during his first season at the club.
De Paul made 14 appearances in all competitions during the first half of the 2015-16 season, including two in the Champions League. On 4 February 2016, he was loaned out by then Valencia manager Gary Neville to his former side Racing Club. De Paul scored his first and only goal in a victory against Bolivar on 24 February in the Copa Libertadores.
De Paul was transferred to Italian Serie A club Udinese and he made his debut on 20 August 2016 against AS Roma in a 4-0 defeat. He scored his first goal for the club in 2017 against AC Milan in a 2-1 victory. De Paul started the 2018/19 season with four goals in the first six matches of the Serie A season and would finish as Udinese’s top goalscorer with nine goals and nine assists.
In 2019, De Paul signed a new five-year contract at Udinese. He would score seven goals and gain six assists for Udinese in Serie A during the 2019/20 season. De Paul became Udinese’s club captain in December 2020, replacing Kevin Lasagna.
De Paul’s good time with Udinese also coincided with his debut in international football. He made his senior international debut for Argentina in a 4-0 victory against Iraq in 2018. The Argentinian later became a regular under manager Lionel Scaloni; De Paul was part of the Argentina squad that finished third in the Copa America 2019 after beating Chile 2-1 in the third-place match.
In the 2021 Copa America, De Paul scored the opening goal in a 3-0 win over Ecuador in the quarter-finals. But, this assist from De Paul has cemented his worth and there will be plenty of attention on him in the coming seasons.