Lionel Messi finally ended a 28-year wait for Argentina when they beat arch-rivals Brazil to win the Copa America 2021 on Sunday.
Lionel Messi finally ended a 28-year wait for Argentina when they beat arch-rivals Brazil to win the Copa America 2021. Argentina last won the Copa America – and by extension, any international title – in 1993. What made the win even sweeter was that this was Messi’s first triumph in national colours. That the talismanic Barcelona forward was desperate to win a trophy with Argentina was well known. However, after the match, coach Lionel Scaloni revealed Messi played the last two games of the Copa America despite not being fully fit.
The exact nature of the injury is unknown, but it is believed to be a hamstring issue. That he played on despite being less than 100% meant a lot to Scaloni – and indeed to Argentina’s chances.
“If you knew the way that he played in the Copa America you’d love him even more,” Scaloni told reporters after the win.
“You can never do without a player like him. Even when he is not fully fit like in this game and the previous one.”
“In the end he did not throw in the towel and he succeeded,” Scaloni added.
Scaloni also showered praise on Messi and spoke about their relationship. He revealed the two are closer than what players and coaches usually are.
“We are talking about the best footballer of all time and everyone knew how important it was for him to win a title with the national team.
“I have a relationship that is different than the (usual) coach-player relationship. It’s closer. We greet each other, we hug each other, and I am eternally grateful to him and his team mates.”
For his part, Messi was elated but the biggest emotion was relief. Not being able to win anything for his country was something that clearly weighed him down.
“I needed to remove from myself the thorn of achieving something with the national team,” Messi said after celebrating with his teammates.
After he lifted the Copa America trophy, Messi said on the pitch and spoke to his family on the phone. He flicked the golden medal around his neck and shouted “I won, I won!”
However, there was another play who was glad to get the money off his back: Angel di Maria. The lanky winger’s struggles in tournament finals led him to see a psychiatrist and it was only fitting that he scored the winner.
“I can’t cry, I can’t fall, we dreamed so much of achieving this. So many people said I shouldn’t come back, I kept banging my head against the wall and today it happened,” the veteran winger said after the match.
“(Messi) said ‘thank you’ and I said ‘thank you’ to him. He told me it was going to be my final. Footbakk is like this, comebacks are like this and it had to be today.”
Di Maria promised more joy for Argentina fans after the Copa title Saturday. “This is enough to continue here. The World Cup is coming soon, and this is a great push,” he said.