Lionel Messi is known worldwide as, bare minimum, one of the best Football players of all-time. Personally, however, I've long thought that no one in the history of the sport even comes close to what he's capable of achieving on the field. Messi has won countless trophies and individual awards with his club team, FC Barcelona, over the past 15 years -- including 10 Spanish League titles, 4 European Champions League titles and a record 6 Ballon d'Ors (awarded to the best player across all world Leagues for that particular calendar year). Despite all of these achievements at the club level, though, Messi had never won a major trophy for his country of Argentina, despite coming very close on multiple occasions. This had been one thing that Messi's detractors always brought up in their case against him.
Entering the 2021 Copa America (named 'Copa America 2020,' as it was originally scheduled for then but was pushed back due to the COVID-19 outbreak), Argentina was viewed as a co-favorite to win the tournament, alongside host nation Brazil. Argentina have been viewed as favorites many times over the past few years, as having Lionel Messi on your team will often inspire said outlook, but had experienced nothing but disappointment over the past few decades. Between the heartbreaking 2014 World Cup Final loss to Germany, the back-to-back Copa America Finals losses (both being decided in penalty shootouts) and the underwhelming performance at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, many were left wondering if Messi would ever get it done for his country like he has countless times for his club. Despite great performances from Messi in these competitions, such as winning the Golden Ball at the 2014 World Cup (awarded to the best player in the entire tournament), being the best always comes with the very highest of expectations.
Argentina opened its Copa America run this summer by facing the team they have recently lost 2 Copa America finals to: Chile. The match got underway in style when Messi scored on a free kick to take the lead; however, the game would eventually finish as a 1-1 draw between the two sides, thus giving both teams one point. Argentina would then win its next two matchups against Uruguay and Paraguay, with Messi assisting on the lone goal in the former and becoming the most capped (most appearances for a country) player in the history of the Argentinian National Team in the latter. In their last group match of the competition, Argentina beat Bolivia 4-1, with Messi assisting on a goal and scoring 2 more himself later on.
Messi assisted twice and scored another goal in the team's 3-0 victory against Ecuador in the quarterfinals of the tournament, the goal he scored being another beautiful free kick from distance. In the semifinals, Argentina faced Columbia who, despite not having their talented playmaker James Rodriguez available due to poor fitness, were still playing well and had made it pretty far. Messi again assisted on the opening goal of the game, but Columbia eventually tied it up at 1-1, sending the match to penalties after full time. After many penalty shootout woes for Messi and company at this very same tournament in past years, Leo scored and Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made multiple saves to win the shootout, sending Argentina into the Final vs the host nation of Brazil. The two teams viewed as co-favorites to win the entire tournament at the start were now headed into a confrontation in the Final.
The Final was hyped up as Messi vs. Neymar, two former club teammates at Barcelona who won many trophies together and also happen to be close friends with one another. The game was played on July 10th in the Maracana Stadium, the most famous stadium in the entire country. Messi's longtime teammate Angel di Maria scored the game's only goal in the 22nd minute. Leo Messi, after many years, had finally won an International Trophy as Argentina were crowned the Champions of all of South America.
Messi was given the Player of the Tournament Award, as well as the Golden Boot, which is awarded to the player who scored the most goals. After winning everything there is to win at the club level, Leo Messi has finally delivered a trophy to his home country of Argentina. This has since silenced the very few critics he's had who always questioned whether he could win anything at the international level. This makes my next statement even more widely accepted than it was before: Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer in the history of the game.
- Cameron (@Cameron_FTF)