By ending a 28-year trophy drought with a Copa América title, Argentina has reclaimed its place atop South America—and Lionel Messi has an emphatic response for whatever critics of his remained.
It was a moment that would have made any Argentina fan immediately conjure the ghosts of finals past, at least those over the last 28 years.
In the 88th minute of the Copa América final and Argentina leading Brazil by a single goal, Lionel Messi found himself 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper, five yards out, with a chance to ice it. If ever any player deserved that moment, it was him. And it’s a goal he scores without thinking twice every time. Except this time. Messi slipped. This final, the missed chance was on him if it came back to bite Argentina in the waning moments.
This time, however, was different all around.
At long last, there’s no sulking and walking by a trophy he won’t be lifting. There’s no more consolation prize in the form of a golden ball. There are no more post-match sobs and questions about international retirement. No more answering for a federation that failed to do right.
Argentina’s trophy drought is over. Messi’s gaping space on an otherwise-overflowing résumé has been filled in. The Copa América trophy is heading back to Buenos Aires and the people of Argentina can exalt and exhale.
Argentina won its first major international title since the 1993 Copa América on Saturday night, beating rival Brazil 1–0 at the Maracanã in Rio de Janiero to put an end to two of the most prominent, longest-running sagas in global soccer. Messi, for all of his goals and greatness, had yet to achieve at the international level—at least achieve enough for an impassioned nation that demands titles.
This one ended in happy tears, with Messi collapsing to the ground at the final whistle and letting it all out, as his teammates ran to mob him. Soon after, they hoisted him in the air. If there were, somehow, any doubt as to whom this championship is for, to whom it means the most, it was answered quite emphatically.