Lionel Messi picked up the last empty box of his brilliant football career in the final of the Copa America in Rio de Janeiro, taking a 1-0 lead over Argentina’s past host Brazil.
Against Germany in the World Cup final – at the same venue, Rio’s Hulking Maragane, in 2014, Messi suffered a series of painful, painful, bad defeats against Argentina.
As the whistle blew to finish the final, Messi – his relief was clear – fell to his knees and was immediately surrounded by his teammates. A few minutes later, they lifted him over his shoulders and threw him into the air.
At the top of his game for more than a decade, the 34-year-old Messi has won every football honor he can imagine with his Spanish club, Barcelona: every trophy, every trophy, every trophy, championship and trophy.
After a painful year, he failed to win a thing with Argentina.
His friend Angel Di Maria gave the final prize, highlighting Argentina in the 22nd minute, after collecting a long cross-field pass to the right from deep midfielder Rodrigo de Paul. After Brazil’s left-hander Renan Lodi controls the ball with a single deep touch, Di Maria then settles for himself – the ball is lifted with the same foot as its next bounce rises – a sent shot to Brazil’s goalkeeper Ederson, who lands slowly next to Brazil.
When Messi and the other Argentine team ran to celebrate with Di Maria, the Brazilians were stunned. The goal was the only third place they allowed in the tournament.
Messi carried Argentina to Brazil last month, chasing the trophy he has long wanted. He led Copa America with four goals and five assists this summer, but he had done so before and then reduced the final victory.
The sting of consecutive defeats – at the 2014 World Cup, the 2015 Copa America final, and again in 2016 – saw Messi retire from the national team at least twice. But twice he returned to chase that first senior title. This month, the Argentine players have made it their mission to deliver.
“Messi is one step ahead of all of us,” de Paul said before the semifinals. “We are all on the same path. The key is to succeed. ”
Saturday’s game is the horrible, fiery affair that everyone expects from the two great powers of South America; Brazilian star Neymar tore up six-inch pieces of his shorts in the first half, and Messi at one point coped with a rare scissor margin.
Brazil, who chased down the game, sent the attackers in after half an hour: Roberto Firmino came on at the break and then, with Vinicius Jr. and Gabriel Barbosa, Brazil pressed the equalizer.
Richardson thought he had scored in the 52nd minute when he ran from Lucas Bucketta to a leading ball and dropped a low shot. But reprints showed that he had broken a split-second in advance and was not allowed to target offside.
Two minutes later he stepped inside again, this time onsite, but his shot was there Stopped at close range Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has been ruled out.
Opportunities kept coming in for both sides – even Messi stunned each other in the goal post late in the game – but as the minutes went by, and the problems got worse, the plea for dives and wrong calls was still firm, the score did not change.
Finally, Messi was a champion in the blue and white of Argentina.