Argentina and Messi, a story of missed opportunities rather than a fairy tale
Alexis Sanchez slotted home the winning penalty in an outrageous manner and ended no less than 99 years of wait for Chile in front of a rapturous home crowd. As the Chilean players sprinted across the Estadio Nacional pitch to celebrate a momentous victory, Lionel Messi cut a desolated figure yet again.
A long wait was over, but a painful one for Argentina and Messi continued. A year earlier, it was all about the little Argentine reaching heights, reserved only for past greats like Pele, Maradona and Zidane when Argentina faced Germany in the World Cup Final.
Many considered it to be the perfect moment for him to emulate the successes of his predecessors by winning the world crown and thereby banishing all doubts of ‘who the greatest ever player is’. It was not meant to be, as Germany scored in extra time to bring home the coveted trophy and hence left the debate still ticking.
More ironic in the aftermath was World Cup winning goal scorer Mario Gotze’s revelation of the motivational line his coach used before sending him in as a substitute,
“Go and show the world that you are better than Messi.”
As bitter it may seem, but the young German stole all the lime light post his dramatic finish in what was until then Messi’s World Cup. Failure to win the World Cup also denied the Argentine genius joining legends of the game he is so often compared with, despite possessing the same legendary sets of skills or better in many opinions.
It is said that form is temporary but class is permanent, while Gotze struggled to live up to expectations with Bayern Munich, Messi left an indelible mark on the ensuing season with Barcelona, helping them to win the treble yet again through his prolific scoring and unrivalled skills. Except for marginally trailing his long-term rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the scoring chart, Messi led the way in all other aspects of the game ranging from successful dribbles to most number of assists and trophies won.
There is now little doubt in who the best club footballer is, yet the burning question of Messi being the best ever to have played football still remains unanswered, considering failure to replicate his club form with the national team.
On the back of an ultra-successful club season, Copa America arrived as the perfect stage for the Argentine. Nothing less than a victory was needed to reassert his claims for being the greatest ever and in the process, prove all doubters wrong who believed his successes are largely attributed to the Barca side, dubbed by many as the best club team. The World Cup may had been a top priority for the Albiceleste during Maradona’s time, but failure to win a single major trophy since 1993 had added far more significance to winning the Copa America some 22 years later.
Simply put by Sergio Aguero, if this golden generation of Argentine players fail to win a trophy, they will regret it for the rest of their lives. It was redemption time for Messias well who echoed the same words when wished to trade all his club titles for a single trophy with the national team.
Never has an Argentinean side looked more determined and purposeful as they were during this competition. Messi willingly led the way throughout until the final and despite failing to score from open play, he contributed in every possible way. Very few suspected that he will leave a mark in the final no matter how roughly handled by the opposing teams.
Again, it was not meant to be. The Chilean coach Sampaoli, known for studying his rivals to the very minute details, came up with a perfect plan in the final – denying Messi any space to have an influence on the game. The match ended in a goalless draw after extra time with Messi unable to register a single shot on target. He did bury the penalty in a resultant shootout but perhaps it was too little, too late. Things were left to chance more than deciding at will and as it turned out, Chile had the last laugh after Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega failed to score from the spot.
Based on their performance throughout the tournament, Chile richly deserved to be crowned South American Champions for the first time in their history.
As for Argentina and Messi, it was again the story of missed opportunities rather than a fairy tale ending. The long wait continues but for a player of Messi’s caliber, not winning an international trophy is too much to be written off. With time still on his side, he will have his chance again in a not-so-distant future, but will he be able to take it remains to be seen.
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