“I honestly don’t know if he’s going to get tired of being praised every day,” Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni mused after Lionel Messi’s latest masterclass.
Once again, Messi was at the heart of all of Argentina’s attacking play, providing two assists before netting a goal of his own with a sublime late free-kick in Saturday’s 3-0 Copa America quarter-final win over Ecuador.
The 34-year-old tops the Copa America charts for goals and assists, with four of each.
As Scaloni suggests, it is hard to stop praising him. There arguably are not enough superlatives to describe Messi.
This Copa may have been viewed as the younger Neymar’s time, on home soil, but the numbers back up the veteran Messi so far.
Un gol. Dos asistencias. Más ángulos del partido del 10
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) July 4, 2021
On a grander scale, Messi has now scored 76 goals for Argentina, one short of Pele’s 77 for Brazil.
Only Pele has scored more goals for a CONMEBOL nation, meaning Messi – who will play his 150th cap for Argentina in the semi-finals – is on the verge of another remarkable feat.
There is no shortage of individual accomplishments which could be listed off for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner but as Argentina progress deeper at the Copa America in Brazil, the question of team success at international level looms for Messi.
He has never won a Copa America, nor the World Cup, coming close to the latter as 2014 runners-up in Brazil.
Fourteen-time winners Argentina, as a nation, have not lifted the Copa America since their second all-time top scorer Gabriel Batistuta helped them to the 1993 title.
Messi is playing at his sixth Copa, with Argentina finishing as runners-up three times during that period.
If La Albiceleste overcome Colombia in the semi-finals, they will likely face nemesis Brazil in the decider at the Maracana, the same venue where they lost the 2014 World Cup final.
The current crop is vastly different to the abundantly talented side from 2014, but Scaloni has made this group tough to break down, with a dependence Messi’s individual brilliance in attack.
76 – Messi has scored 76 goals for Argentina – only Pelé has scored more goals for a CONMEBOL nation (77). Genius. pic.twitter.com/jqjm5pwLZV
— OptaJoao (@OptaJoao) July 4, 2021
Scaloni’s Argentina have gone 18 games unbeaten now, while they have only conceded once in their past four games at Copa.
This side have also scored in the first half in 11 consecutive matches. On Saturday against Ecuador they dearly clung on to a 1-0 lead for long periods of the second half, repelling several attacks with a resolute appproach as Ecuador had more possession (54 per cent). It is not the first time under Scaloni this has happened successfully.
So is this Messi’s best shot at international success? Is it his last chance at the Copa, with the next event scheduled for 2024?
That remains to be seen for the 34-year-old, who is currently a free agent after his Barcelona contract expired on June 30, although he is expected to re-sign and play at next year’s World Cup.
But the ingredients are there for that breakthrough success for both Messi and Argentina.
As the list of individual accomplishments and accolades continues to grow, achieving that elusive international team success with Argentina would solidify Messi’s legacy. The time is now.
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