It was meant to be the moment. The time when Lionel Messi finally achieved the international glory he craved so much. His fantastic tournament was all set to end with revenge against Chile, the side who had beaten Argentina in last year’s Copa America final in cruel fashion, thanks to a penalty shoot out after a 0-0 draw.
Incredibly, in this year’s Copa final, after a goalless 120 minutes, it was spot kicks again, and, after Arturo Vidal missed the Chile’s first, it was up to Messi.
The best player in the world places the ball on the spot. He hasn’t had a good penalty record over the past couple of years. Is he thinking about that? It doesn’t look like it. In fact, he looks quite confident, as he steps up to, quite possibly, take the most important kick of his life. If he scores, Argentina goal 1-0 up after a penalty each, and look favourites to win. If he misses, Chile are back in it.
He glances up at the goalkeeper, and steps up to strike. And he misses. He blazes his shot hideously over the bar. His head sinks into his hands as he begins the long walk back to the halfway line.
He had scored a penalty in the shootout of last year’s final, but Argentina ha still lost. This year, he missed, so it wasn’t really as surprise when Chile went on to claim back to back Copa America titles, both of them coming from 0-0 draws after 120 minutes and winning on penalties against Argentina.
However, in the aftermath of the match, little of the focus was on the champions, because it was Messi who sent shockwaves throughout world football, stating that he would retire from international football in an interview.
His decision to give up at 29 with the Russia World Cup looming just two years away was definitely unexpected, but before blaming him, we have to put things into context.
Whilst always consistently performing at club level for Barcelona, he has never quite been able to produce that kind of form for the national team.
Of course, we have seen spells of brilliance, and after he lit up the tournament all the way up to this year’s final, it would have been the perfect way to finally get his first major international honour, after winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But of course, it wasn’t to be, and following Argentina’s defeat in the 2007 Copa America final, they have now lost the final at every tournament for the last three years, after the 2014 World Cup final, the 2015 Copa America final, and the 2016 Copa Centenario Final all saw Messi and co fall at the final hurdle.
Undoubtedly, it’s a situation that would be almost impossible to handle for the five time Ballon D’Or winner, and after his announcement that it was all over, reports are suggesting that Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Sergio Aguero, Lucas Biglia and Angel Di Maria (to name a few) could also follow suit.
As for his international career on the whole, if he wasn’t Lionel Messi, it would have been brilliant. Unfortunately, the fact that he is such a good player means that despite being their all time record goalscorer, his lack of a major trophy means he falls just short of many Argentinian people’s requirements.
He may have taken apart bitter rivals Brazil with a stunning hat-trick, he may have scored four brilliant goals in the World Cup group stages, he may have guided his country to this latest final with jaw-dropping pieces of skill and brilliance, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.
So, if he does stay true to his word, it seems he will ultimately fail to earn the elusive accolade of the best player of all time, after all, whilst he has never been part of a quality Argentina side, Diego Maradona, who he has been likened to on a countless number of occasions, managed to drag a relatively poor side to World Cup glory, and even if Messi may have been a better player, there is no doubt that Maradona had a better career.
Yes, he is a truly unbelievable football player – but perhaps not the best to grace the earth.