Messi saw red after Argentina won their Copa America third-place play-off against Chile. The Barcelona forward was shown the second red card of his career in a hot-tempered game, and this development further underlined his reputation as a club-level legend, but a man destined to fall short on the international scene.
Consequently, the Copa America of 1993 remains the last time Argentina won a major tournament. Painfully, in the 26 years that Argentina has gone without a trophy, Colombia has won the Copa, as have Chile (twice), with Brazil lifting it five times and Uruguay twice.
With years of international hurt in his wake, can the Barcelona talisman dine once more on the World Cup stage and take home glory for his country, or will he fall short at Qatar and accept that it was not to be?
Why has Messi ‘Underachieved’?
In terms of the World Cup, eight tournaments have now passed since Argentina last lifted the trophy. Naturally, anyone looking back at this period of history in 50 years’ time will most likely come to the conclusion that there wasn’t much talent in the squad.
Of course, that is not the case, and Messi has been crowned as the best player in the world on five occasions. From 2007 to 2017, he was also in the Ballon d’Or’s top three for 11 years running, and a sizeable number of his Argentina teammates have also finished on the podium for the superlatively-prestigious award.
Those who believe that Messi is not simply a ‘bottler’ may firstly point to the number of different head coaches he has played under as a mitigating factor. In his international career, he has seen eight different international managers, but none of them has been able to get the team to click.
Though any nation with a wealth of attacking talent is always the envy of international peers, it is never easy to try and placate every striker, number ten or wide attacker on the international agenda.
Subsequently, in the last two years, Messi has only scored five goals for Argentina. His heart doesn’t seem to be in it anymore, as evidenced by the fact that he initially tried to retire in 2016, only to be convinced to once again pull on the blue and white shirt for his country.
Indeed, he only scored one goal in the 2018 World Cup, and it was the same story in this year’s Copa America. He has constantly switched positions for the national team, whereas his life at the Nou Camp has been a lot more settled.
Will he make it to Qatar?
It’s coming to that time where age is soon going to catch up with the superstar. He’ll be 36 when the next World Cup comes along, and by that time, he could have departed football altogether.
As he has already tried to retire once, it’s hard to see how he’ll have the motivation to carry on for another four years and go through another full qualification campaign. But his international career might not be over just yet.
In a potentially huge twist, CONMEBOL has decided to align the Copa America with the European Championships, which means there will be another tournament next year, with Argentina co-hosting it with Colombia, though it is the latter nation that will host the final.
Messi might see it as one last chance to raise an international trophy. The general suggestion is that it will be.
Hope for Argentina after Messi?
Sooner or later, the diminutive genius is going to play his last game for Argentina. Fans will be hoping that without such a focal point in the team, the rest of the players would be able to play with more freedom, becoming a better team overall for it.
While that is a solid theory, the stats don’t back it up. In the last 10 competitive games Argentina has not featured Messi, the team has recorded a dismal return of two wins, four draws and four losses.
When Argentina reached the World Cup final five years ago, they had a squad full of capable defenders and high-quality midfielders to go with that immense attacking talent. Today, that support hardly exists, and the Argentina squad remains horribly unbalanced.
While it is in this mode of existence, silverware is out of the question. The lack of talent coming through, and the constant underachievement, could well drive Messi away from the international game soon.
The two-time World Cup winners will, undoubtedly, be poorer in his absence.
Do you think Messi can overcome his international woes, or add to his collection of trophies?
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