When the final of a major tournament comes around, everyone's focused on the stars. We wait for that one person to have a match that will go down as one of the most memorable of their life, a match that will epitomize their career. In the Copa América Centenario final, we got just that -- but it wasn't from one of the greatest players of all time, Lionel Messi. Nor did it come from the tournament's Golden Boot winner, Eduardo Vargas. In fact, it didn't come from any of the players. That memorable match was saved for referee Heber Lopes of Brazil, who was the most talked about man of the night.
Lopes' first half performance included two soft red cards to Chile's Marcelo Díaz and Argentina's Marcos Rojo, as well as five yellow cards, including one to Messi for diving. Looking at the Brazilian's record, though, his multi-card first half is no surprise; he's handed out multiple cards in all of the games he's refereed this year alone.
As wild as the first half was, though, the second half started in a rather calm fashion. The beginning of the second half did not lack any of the fouls the first half had -- in fact, it was quite the same. Yet, it seemed like Lopes was scolded at halftime and decided to take a chill pill, handing only two yellow cards out throughout the second 45 minutes, to Chile's Jean Beausejour and Charles Aranguíz. But Argentina and Chile, still scoreless, could not allow Lopes to finish his big day in such a tame way, and so he was granted extra time. Lopes did not waste his opportunity.
Lopes was back to his typical self as the first half of extra time, handing out a yellow card to Argentina's Matias Kranevitter in the 94th minute. The yellow card was shown in the most passionate way a man could. It was hard not to admire. Lopes was clearly ready for the challenge the remaining 26 minutes would bring, and the best was yet to come.
chill, buddy pic.twitter.com/pUTQpLSkYN— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) June 27, 2016
Feeling the foul-filled tone of the night, Lopes decided to commit a foul himself, choosing Messi as his target and possibly showing his preference for Cristiano Ronaldo. As the Argentine fell to the ground, Lopes, too, fell, and needed assistance from the five-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner to get back to his feet.
As extra time was winding down, though, Lopes made his last big mark before the players created their own drama in the upcoming penalty shootout. In an altercation with Chile's Gary Medel, Lopes showed he is no one to mess with. Medel came to the referee, shouting about some injustice Lopes did not react to, and the Brazilian shut Medel down, making the Chilean leave the referee's presence immediately in a fright. He did tackle Messi, one of the most beloved people on Planet Earth, earlier in the match. Heber Lopes is not someone you'd want to meet in a dark alley.
As Chile took home the Copa América Centenario title on penalty kicks, many will remember the important saves goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made in the match and in the shootout, and they will remember the final penalty scored by Gato Silva that cemented the win for the Chileans. However, no one will forget the match of a lifetime from referee Heber Lopes, who earned the useless medal referees are awarded in major tournament finals. He was truly the man of the match.