2014: A shell-shocked Messi drifts past the shimmering World Cup Trophy; unable to comprehend how it had gotten away.
2015: Messi watches on as both Higuaín and Banega miss their penalties as Argentina fall to Chile in the Copa America Final.
2016: A heartbroken Messi weeps uncontrollably as his penalty miss underlines another Copa Final loss to Chile.
Three final losses in three years.
Messi has not reached an international final since. Argentina crashed out in the first knockout round in the 2018 World Cup against eventual winners France. The 2019 Copa America involved a highly controversial loss to eventual champions Brazil. Nevertheless, Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste will go again in 2021, eager to end a 28-year drought in the competition. This could very much be his last chance at international glory with Argentina.
However, at first glance, their chances seem slim. To start with, this Argentina squad is one of the most inexperienced in the competition; in fact, of the 23-man squad, only five players have won more than twenty caps. Commendably, coach Lionel Scaloni is trying to integrate the youth; however, this also means the team is still ever-dependent on Messi. While still one of the best players in the world, the Argentine is now 33 and cannot shoulder the weight and expectations of an entire nation.
Perhaps destiny is against them, too, with the shifting of the tournament from Argentina to their arch-rivals Brazil compounding what was already an impossible task. It is interesting to note, however, that there is cause for optimism if you are an Argentina, or more likely, a Messi fan.
Scaloni seems to have built a solid team around Messi. The likes of Lautaro Martínez, Juan Foyth, and Ángel Di María are all coming off stellar seasons at club level. They have also picked up form at a crucial stage, unbeaten in their six previous World Cup qualifiers and having won both Copa America warm-up matches.
Out of all the nations competing in Copa America, La Albiceleste are arguably the most desperate to win it. The weight of an entire nation’s hopes rests on this young team and on the man that will lead them. Will the expectation be too much, or will Argentina finally end 28 years of misery.
Tournament Prediction: As much as football fans want to see it, it’s hard to make a convincing case for Argentina to win Copa America. Having said that, if they avoid Brazil up until the final, anything could happen. Unfortunately, a semi-final exit seems likely.
There are many who believe Messi deserves an international trophy. Will he finally win be able to add this laurel to his endless accomplishments or is there more heartbreak around the corner for the little wizard.