Lionel Messi has ended his international hoodoo as Argentina beat Brazil in the Copa America final.
The 34-year-old, currently a free agent after his Barcelona contract expired, fell to the floor at full-time in a sign of huge relief. It has been a long road for the six-time Ballon d’Or, who has finished runners-up on four separate occasions.
And the match was decided by a single goal from Angel di Maria, who lobbed Manchester City star Ederson, from a perfect Rodrigo de Paul pass. Brazil were poor throughout the contest and could not test Emi Martinez in the Argentine net properly.
Everton ace Richarlison had the Selecao’s best chance of the match when he forced the Aston Villa keeper into a save. But all eyes were on Messi as full-time came, who crumpled to the floor and was mobbed by his teammates.
The superstar now adds an international trophy to his already gleaming cabinet of silverware to further add weight to the “best player of all time” debate.
Messi was named player of the tournament after his four goals helped Argentina lift the Copa America cup but it should have been five.
After being put through and with the goal at his mercy, the four-time Champions League winner slipped in what would have been the perfect end to the tournament.
On the other end of the scale, Brazil captain Neymar was left in tears after sinking to his knees after his own emotional journey.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward missed the 2019 Copa America tournament and also was injured during the 2014 World Cup in his home country.
This was finally a chance for the 29-year-old to stand up to his critics who say he has not done enough for the Verde-Amarela.
There was a touching moment between Neymar and Messi prior to the trophy ceremony where the two embraced.
Inside the Maracana, 7,000 invited spectators were allowed into the venue – the first time fans were allowed into a Copa America match this year due to strict Covid regulations.
And they made themselves particularly heard in the 80,000 capacity stadium, jeering and booing everytime Messi touched the ball.
But it has been a long wait for the veteran forward for an international trophy, 15 years after his debut for La Albiceleste.
There have been four World Cups and six Copa America appearances, totalling 53 appearances at those competitions.
Critics had always pointed to Messi’s lack of international impact as a reason why he could never be considered the best player of all time, despite his brilliance at club level.
But those doubters are now silenced with the superstar being the driving force behind Argentina’s success.
His future will now be under consideration, though it appears he will sign a new contract with Barcelona until 2023.
At the age of 34, it remains to be seen whether Messi will now hang up his boots at international level – though he could see Qatar 2022 as his swansong – where he will lead his country out at 35-years-old.
Photo Credit: Getty