SANTIAGO. — Lionel Messi has come up short again in his attempt to succeed with Argentina’s national team.
Messi looked nothing like the star that he is with Barcelona on Saturday, and Argentina lost the Copa America final to Chile 4-1 on penalties, extending its 22-year title drought.
The four-time world player of the year scored his team’s lone goal in the penalty shoot-out, but had a lacklustre performance in regulation and extra time, failing to spark his teammates to victory.
Saturday’s disappointment comes less than a year since he also failed to lead Argentina to victory in the World Cup final, and will ignite even more criticism by those who say Messi doesn’t play as well with the national team as he does with his club.
Messi helped Argentina win the Under-20 World Cup in 2005, as well as the gold medal in the Beijing Games in 2008, but is yet to lead the senior team to a title.
Before the runner-up finish at last year’s World Cup in Brazil, Messi hadn’t been able to lead Argentina past the quarter-finals of football’s showcase event, with early eliminations in 2006 and 2010. He also was in the Copa America team that lost the 2007 final to Brazil, and was eliminated by eventual champion Uruguay in the quarterfinals of the tournament at home in 2011.
“A result, or even a loss in a final, will not change what Messi represents to the rest of the world,” said Chile’s Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli, adding that it was key to stop Messi and his teammates in Saturday’s final.
“If Argentina had been able to take control of the match at some point, Messi was going to make sure that we noticed why he is the best player in the world,” Sampaoli said.
Messi didn’t play well in the start of the Copa America but was improving match after match. He was coming off a remarkable performance in the 6-1 rout of Paraguay in the semifinals, when he didn’t score but helped set up five goals.
On Saturday, he made passing mistakes and several times was easily disarmed by defenders, failing to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. In the one time he made a decent run past the defence, Argentina nearly broke the deadlock just before the final whistle in regulation, but Gonzalo Higuain was not able capitalize on a dangerous cross into the area.
The next chance Messi will have to win a title with Argentina is in next year’s centennial Copa America in the United States. Before that, the 31-year-old play-maker will help his nation in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The final was not a classic and just like the 2014 World Cup final, Messi failed to really sparkle and again his country fell flat.
His aspirations of greatness in his country of birth continues to face a brick wall even though he has led Barcelona to 25 major titles in the last eight years.
And the omens were not good for the Argentines for as early as the 28th minute, Angel Di Maria, had to leave the pitch with a muscle injury.
Di Maria had shone with two goals in the 6-1 demolition of Paraguay but Ezequiel Lavezzi replaced him.
Chile were their hungry self, chasing and pressing the Argentina defence and midfield and that made for a tetchy encounter that saw seven yellow cards – four to Chile and three to Argentina.
The match also produced few chances of note, as there were just six shots on target in 120 minutes but the raucous atmosphere at the Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos, Santiago de Chile more than made up for the less than spectacular happenings on the pitch.
And so many Argentines, disappointed with the result, took to social media, blaming the Argentina coach, Gerardo Martino, for making poor substitutions as he left the hero of the penalty shoot-out win over Colombia, Carlos Tevez, on the bench for the whole duration of the match and instead put on Gonzalo Higuain, who is making a name for choking on the big occasions.
Higuain had chances to score against Germany last year in Brazil but fluffed his lines and he also had a golden chance to win it for his country two minutes into injury time, but he only found the side netting. — AP.