The Copa America has kicked off with a win for the host nation, Chile. This year's tournament, which culminates with the final on July 4, features many of soccer's biggest stars.
Cheered on by a partisan home crowd at Santiago's Julio Martinez National Stadium on Thursday evening, Chile gave the fans what they were looking for, earning a 2-0 win over Ecuador to open the championship of South American national teams, the Copa America.
The home side started the match at a fast pace, twice threatening to open the scoring in the first few minutes. Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez ran onto a through ball from Jorge Valdivia in the second minute, but his low shot skidded just wide of Ecuador's goal. Moments later, Sanchez got a second opportunity, but his attempted lob was easily gathered my Ecuador's keeper, Alexander Dominguez.
The Chilean attack also failed to convert through the rest of the first 45 minutes and the two teams headed to the dressing rooms for the halftime break still deadlocked in a scoreless tie.
It wasn't until the 66th minute that the Chilean supporters go their first chance to cheer, when Juventus star Arturo Vidal found the back of the net from the penalty spot. This followed what some saw as a harsh decision to give the penalty, after Miller Bolanos tugged on Vidal's jersey inside the box.
Ecuador also created a number of chances, with the best being an Enner Valencia effort that struck the woodwork.
Eduardo Vargas collected the insurance marker for Chile in the 83rd minute and the home side finished the match with 10 men after midfielder Matias Fernandez was sent off due to a second yellow card in time-added-on.
"The first game is difficult, we were nervous," Vidal said afterwards. "The result is the most important."
Brazil look to make amends
The tournament continues on Friday when Mexico faces Bolivia, while Saturday will feature two higher-profile matches: Uruguay-Jamaica and Argentina-Paraguay. Brazil, looking to make amends for a disappointing World Cup at home last summer, are to play their first game on Sunday against Peru.
Brazil's captain, the Barcelona forward Neymar is just one of the stars who are to feature in this year's tournament. Others include Neymar's Barcelona teammate, Lionel Messi, who will line up alongside Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez for Argentina.
Notable by his absence is Uruguay's Luis Suarez, who is still serving a suspension for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup.
The Copa America is the oldest tournament of national teams in the world, having been played at varying intervals since 1916. The 100th edition of the Copa America is to slated to become the first played outside of South America, when it is held in the United States next summer.
pfd/bk (AP, AFP, dpa)