Lionel Messi announced he would retire from playing with his national team after Argentina lost to Chile on penalties in the Copa America Centenario final on Sunday. The defeat was the third consecutive final Argentina have now lost in as many summers; following the 2014 World Cup defeat to Germany, and last summer’s Copa America, which was also lost to Chile on penalties.
But Sunday’s loss was a particularly bitter one for Messi who missed the first penalty kick in the shootout for Argentina.
“I tried my hardest, it’s been four finals and I was not able to win. I tried everything possible, it hurts me more than anyone but it is evident that this is not for me,” Messi told reporters after the match.
The final was far from a classic, more notable for the number of cards handed out –- six yellow and two red –- than for moments of spectacular football. Messi didn’t have a bad game but generally lived up to the criticism that he doesn’t produce for his national team on the level he consistently does for Barcelona. His Barça teammate Javier Mascherano has also announced that Sunday’s final at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. would be his last appearance in an Albiceleste jersey.
Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero – who both missed clear chances to put the game away during the run of play – are also said to be considering their international futures.
But while Messi’s international retirement is garnering the headlines, credit must also be given to Chile. For decades an also-ran in South American football, La Roja have announced themselves as a power on the international stage with back-to-back triumphs in the Copa America.
Striker Eduardo Vegas won the tournament’s golden boot with six goals and keeper Claudio Bravo was awarded the golden glove with 13 saves and three clean sheets. Alexis Sanchez was deservedly awarded the golden ball as the Copa’s most valuable player.
After inexplicably not being chosen as one of the tournament’s seeded teams, Chile began the Copa slowly but improved game-over-game. Having announced their title credentials with a 7-0 destruction of Mexico, they dispatched Colombia with relative ease on the way to a final in which they dominated possession and minimized opportunities for an Argentine team that on paper anyway, possessed superior talent.
While last summer’s Copa, which Chile hosted, could arguably be regarded as something of a one-off, over the past month coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team proved itself to once again be the most formidable in South American football.
Having won back-to-back Copa titles and effectively retired the man regarded by many as the greatest player ever to have kicked a ball from international football, Chile can look forward to the 2018 World Cup in Russia with deserved optimism.