Lionel Messi: More misery for Barcelona forward with Argentina
Argentina beaten by Brazil in Copa America semi-final
Last Updated: 03/07/19 3:01pm
As the full-time whistle sounded in Argentina's 2-0 Copa America semi-final defeat to Brazil, all eyes went to Lionel Messi. One word sprung to mind: dejection.
A glum looking Messi in an Argentina shirt? Where have we seen that before? This latest Copa America failure is another to throw on the pile of misery.
The 32-year-old has an U20 World Cup title and an Olympic gold medal to his name but that is a timid return for a footballing mad nation like Argentina with arguably the greatest ever footballer on the teamsheet.
Goals from Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino ended what was possibly Messi's last chance to win some major silverware with his country.
Messi was just five-years-old when Argentina last won a major title.
There has been five final defeats - four Copa America and one World Cup, where Messi was quiet in a 1-0 loss to Germany. Messi was awarded the Golden Ball as best player at that tournament but he said: "The prize doesn't interest me at all," as he reflected on a huge missed opportunity to define his legacy at international level.
Expectation to blame?
Athletes speak of 'getting in the zone' - it's a place where everything both mentally and physically flows to perfection and a high level of performance is achieved.
Like when a cricketer is seeing it like a tennis ball or a golfer is sinking putts from every corner of the green. Sports stars can get into this place just once or twice in their careers, but Messi is constantly able to put himself in that zone to produce superhuman performances. On a weekly basis when wearing the Barcelona shirt, Messi is able to do extraordinary things. He looks at peace. He fits in. The crowd are on his side.
Getting into that zone when playing for his country has always proved more difficult. The weight of a nation has taken its toll.
One Lionel Messi? No. There's two of them.
Succeeding is all about trying hard enough but failure can come of trying too hard.
Against Brazil, Messi's body language told that story from an early stage. He looked constantly agitated, especially with the referee who bore most of Messi's early frustration through his questioning of every foul on him not being worthy of a yellow card. Waving imaginary cards towards a referee never did anyone any favours. It's not a good look for the one of the greats.
Of course, there were flashes of brilliance as the game wore on as Brazil tried to soak up pressure but Messi was taking one touch too many in and around the box and snatching, rather than caressing, chances. His levels have been uncharacteristically sluggish in all four games this tournament.
Brazil goalkeeper Alisson - beaten by a heavenly free-kick from Messi in the Champions League - easily dealt with two weak 25-yard efforts this time around. The magic just was not there.
Messi's big moment came on 57 minutes but his half-volley finish came crashing back off the outside of the post.
He was alive to the rebound but again his clever cross across the six-yard box was not read by any of his team-mates. Fine margins.
Brazil never really look troubled after that moment with Casemiro and his midfield team-mates restricting the supply line into Messi. Argentina - not for the first time - lacked a Plan B.
The worry is that this result may have retired Messi from international football. For good this time.The lure of the 2020 Copa America, which Argentina is co-hosting with Colombia, could tempt Messi to carry on and after the defeat to Brazil he didn't rule out one last push.
"Something new is on the horizon," Messi said.
"I hope we are respected and not criticised. They should let the team be and let them grow.
"The truth is I have got on very well with this group of players and if I have to help in some way I will. This is a great group which is growing and if I can join them I will."
It was far from conclusive and certainly hopes of Messi turning out for Argentina at the age of 35 at the 2022 World Cup look slim.
For now, though, Argentina do have a third and fourth place play-off to contend with at the weekend. If Messi was to play it would be an underwhelming way to wave goodbye.
The little maestro is running out of chances to bow out in a blaze of glory. In fact, his last chance may have already gone.