“Go dance now,” Leo Messi shouted at Mina, who missed Pendel in a semi-final duel. The Colombian stopper was recently a friend of Barcelona, for a short time, but that did not stop him from waging a blatant psychological war against the opponent. His flea kick has already been put inside in coolness, and now he was dependent on others to qualify for the fifth final of his life with the Argentina national team. So he did everything he could, including dirty exercises that do not usually fit with his image. Mina performed an entertaining dance when Dyke was on his penalty in the quarterfinals, which helped his teammates’ confidence. Now was the time to ruin their mood. And it worked – Edwin Cardona also missed in front of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, and Messi got his final.
Watch the drama
Is the match against Brazil in Marcana at night between Saturday and Sunday (03:00, Sports 1) Will define the legacy of the mythical superstar who has just celebrated his 34th birthday? It would be a bit ridiculous to answer this question in the affirmative, but it has a lot of symbolism in it, and winning a title with Argentina will take a huge monkey off its back. After all, he lost in all previous finals, and the team did not manage to score even a single goal in them. The case was usually dropped on him, even if he was not the main culprit in the fiasco in most cases. Now he has a chance to close a few circles, and who knows – maybe this chance will never come back.
This is surely his only option to win a title on Brazilian soil. Messi would pay a lot to replace him with the trophy he wanted most of all – the 2014 World Cup. He then came to Marcana, when all the Brazilians cheered on rival Germany, even though it had humiliated Salsa 1: 7 in the semi-finals a few days earlier. After this catastrophe, they only needed to see an Argentine celebrating gold medals in their fortress. Messi did his best that day against Joachim Lev’s favorite bunch, but it was not enough. Mario slashed the fate of the game in extra time, Germany won 0: 1, and the Flea received the Outstanding Player of the Tournament with a sad face. Who needs personal degrees in such situations? It felt like an unsuccessful joke, on the verge of abuse.
So the Brazilians even organized invested graffiti at the southern end of Copacabana Beach to commemorate a German victory. Delusional, but a fact. They have no drawing on their own glorious victory over Argentina in the 2007 Copa America final, but it is well remembered by Messi himself. He was then a 20-year-old boy, and Juan Roman Riquelme was still the biggest star of the Albiceleste. He had not yet imagined what a curse would haunt him throughout his career. He just wanted to celebrate a trophy, and in terms of the squad Argentina was preferable. Instead, she snatched 3: 0. Danny Alves, then still defending Sevilla, then came in as a substitute and scored. Wagner Love – the one who played on Wednesday against Maccabi Haifa in a Kirtat uniform – was in the squad.
Messi was defeated, and that was the sign of things to come. In the middle of the previous decade, he lost in three finals in three years. It started in the World Cup, and lasted in two finals against Chile in two consecutive Copa America editions. The first, which took place on the soil of Chile itself, Messi was very close to winning. He got there after winning the wonderful treble with Barcelona, dreaming of a fourth year in one year, and during the injuries in the final it was his moment. He got the ball in midfield, passed two players in a typical slalom, pulled the entire defense to him, then sent an ingenious pass to Eskiel Labatzi. The latter just had to pass a simple wide ball to Gonzalo Higuain – and that’s it, the trophy belonged to Argentina. Labzi failed in the task, and the business got complicated. It ended 0-0, and Chile won on penalties.
At least Messi then scored his penalty in a duel. A year later, in the United States, it was again the final against Chile, again 0-0, and this time the flea also missed from the penalty spot. Frustrated by the public atmosphere around him, the situation in the locker room and the policy of the Argentine association, he then announced his retirement from the national team. A huge media campaign persuaded him to return, but he may have regretted this return more than once. It is not easy to play in the national uniform with a label of eternal loser on your back, when all the failures are automatically registered in your name – like, for example, the disappointment in the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a very problematic staff.
Kenpa America 2020 was pre-marked as a tournament that could put an end to the unbearable drought with no wins that has bitten since 1993. Its part was supposed to take place in Argentina, even if the final itself was set in Colombia, and for Messi it was the second and final “home” tournament after the 2011 failure. But then the plague came, and everything changed. Instead of celebrating in Argentina, we had a strange and controversial tournament in corona-stricken Brazil, in front of empty stands, which were almost boycotted by the hostess’ own players. Now, in the second final of the flea market in Marcana, the atmosphere will not be reminiscent of the 2014 World Cup, and in general there were those who expected that the passion of the players would not be at its peak in the gloomy and strange circumstances.
Not with Messi. His commitment knows no bounds, his determination is immense, the spark in his eyes did not go out for a moment. Maybe these are not the conditions under which he dreamed of winning a bachelor’s degree with Argentina, but the stories around are secondary. He really wants to be a South American champion, and in terms of productivity on the field this is the best tournament of his life. Argentina have scored 11 goals so far – Messi signed four of them, cooked five of them, and was also involved in the other two. His hand in all. He is the outstanding player of Copa America 2021 by a huge margin, even ahead of his close friend Neymar, whom he must defeat in order to fulfill his ambitions.
He once wanted to leave the troubled team and focus exclusively on Barcelona. Now the situation is reversed. In fact, Messi’s contract with the Catalan flagship expired at the end of June, and he is a free agent. Technically, he does not belong to any team, but only to the team. The games in the quarter-finals and semi-finals – and now also in the final – he does not exist as a Barça star. He’s just the star of Argentina. And the fans, who only watch it on TV, are behind it and support it. They, too, want the curse removed. About six months after Diego Maradona’s death, Messi wants to win the trophy and dedicate it to his memory. This is a national task, more than ever.
“We have not done anything yet,” the captain warned after the dramatic victory over Colombia. He knows this best of all. Whoever lost in four finals, can not be too optimistic towards the fifth final. But he owes it, to everyone and especially to himself. Will this long saga have a happy ending?