You may not be entirely aware of what it means to “get CONCACAF’d,” but it’s a concept born of dozens of examples at all sorts of CONCACAF competition. In general, you can expect any referee to lose control of the game and start making ever-stranger decisions, culminating in one key moment that just happens to hand a victory to a favored team, one that might make the higher-ups happy by moving the bigger team on to another round.
Bolivia, of course, is not a CONCACAF nation, so they might not have known exactly what was in store for them, but they were the recipient of one of the all-time-great CONCACAFings in history. A controversial handball in the box? Leading to a penalty for Chile, the title holders, who was in danger of earning just one point from its first two games of the tournament? With huge stars like Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez that Copa organizers would probably want to see in the quarterfinals? In – and I don’t think this can be stressed enough – the 100TH MINUTE OF THE GAME? Congrats, Bolivia! That’s excellent CONCACAFing!
We all knew Panama would struggle. We all knew Messi wouldn’t start the game. Maybe Messi wouldn’t play at all! Maybe Panama could hold on for a point somehow! Maybe Group D would be total chaos and Argentina would finish somewhere other than atop of Group D!
Even after Angel di Maria scored early, everything was still possible, and then: Messi. Sporting a beard that made him look weirdly like Batman-era Christian Bale, Messi came on just after the hour mark, to rapturous applause from the crowd. He picked up a goofy defensive error from Panama and scored. He bent a wonderful free-kick into the top corner. He split the Panamanian central defenders and scored. The most-hyped player in the tournament and he finished off a nineteen-minute hat trick by adding an assist.
Messi. Messi Messi Messi.
Unless the Argentina team bus gets lost on the way to the game against Bolivia, Argentina will finish atop the group. Bolivia is playing for pride and also the potential chance to see Messi up close. Panama needs to beat Chile if they’re going to ruin all of that good CONCACAFing and send the Chileans home; otherwise, order will be restored and Chile will finish second in the group.