by Erik Reiss
It was the 2016 Copa América Centenario Final. The Argentines returned with a vengeance and set out for a rematch against the Chileans. The year prior, in the 2015 Copa América Final, the white and sky blues suffered a devastating defeat to the reds in a 4-1 penalty shootout. Lionel Messi was the sole Argentine to convert his penalty kick.
Messi is unequivocally one of, if not, the best players to ever grace this planet. His illustrious career has thus far been copiously decorated with fifty-seven honors and accolades, both individually and with Barcelona. He has secured major victories across almost every stage except one – internationally (Hodges). With Argentina, “La Pulga Atomica” has reached the Copa América Final twice and the World Cup Final once, but he has yet to garner a title in either. In this respect, his renowned legacy is lacking and falls short of the greats preceding him.
This was his opportunity to change that. With the match underway, it appeared to be dominated by the Argentines in almost every respect, yet it remained scoreless through the first ninety minutes. Through extra time, the deadlock persisted, with neither side capable of sending one to the back of the net.
Next, came the dreaded penalty shootout. The moment was awfully reminiscent of the year before, sending shivers through the Argentines who hoped they could render a different outcome this time around. Stepping up for the Chileans, Arturo Vidal drove the ball straight at the hands of Romero, providing the Argentines with a major jolt in morale.
Now, it was Lionel Messi’s turn. The little maestro could not have begged for a more pristine stage to make his mark. In front of 81,000 fans and with Vidal’s blunder lifting the pressure off his shoulders, Messi was on track to become an Argentinian hero and secure his long sought-after international title. Standing face-to-face with Claudio Bravo, he took seven steps back, rested his hands on his waist, and took a deep breath. What supervened stunned the crowd and shocked the world.
Using power over accuracy, force over precision, brute over exactitude, Messi mistakenly shanked the ball over the crossbar. Caught in a whirlpool of emotions, he ripped down at his jersey in fury and sunk his face into his palms. The proceeding walk back to the halfway line “must have been the loneliest 40 yards he’ll ever tread” (Richards). He now needed to rely on his fellow teammates to come to the rescue and correct his error.
Unfortunately, the Argentines proceeded to lose the shootout 4-2, and the repercussions of the loss were exceedingly apparent. His teammate, Sergio Agüero, described Messi as “broken,” declaring “it [was] the worst [he has] ever seen him in the dressing room after a game” (Sunderland). The ensuing anguish overwhelming Lionel Messi led the star to announce his retirement from international play. With another international title slipping away from the Argentine yet again, Messi’s legacy remains tarnished and incomplete.
Hodges, Vicki. “Ronaldo vs Messi: Who’s on top of the honour roll after CR7’s latest award?” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 24 October 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/10/24/ronaldo-vs-messi-top-honour-roll-cr7s-latest-award.
“MESSI MISS PENALTY FINAL COPA AMERICA 2016 HD.” YouTube, uploaded by Direct Goals, 2 July 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW3GdF9U5DU.
Richards, Alex. “Lionel Messi has now failed in four major finals – and it WILL affect his legacy.” Mirror, 27 June 2016, www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/lionel-messi-now-failed-four-8291144.
Sunderland, Tom. “Lionel Messi ‘Broken’ After Copa America Final Penalty Miss, Says Sergio Aguero.” Bleacher Report, Bleacher Report, 11 April 2017, https://www.bleacherreport.com/articles/2648676-lionel-messi-broken-after-copa-america-final-penalty-miss-says-sergio-aguero.