Argentina finally overthrows Brazil
For most of a decade, Lionel Messi’s alleged failures at major international tournaments were the only thing separating him from undisputed GOAT status.
He is the most talented football player of all time and has proven it in Barcelona for half his life. He is also blinded for his native Argentina. But on big stages, at World Cups and Copa Americas, it got darker as the headlights got brighter. Argentina lagged behind in the big finals in a row. And stories emerged. The Messi couldn’t win the big one. The Messi this and Messi The.
And the problem with all of them was very simple: soccer, perhaps more than any other sport, cannot be conquered by one individual.
The Copa America final on Saturday evening, in which Argentina participated as +300 underdogs with BetMGM, proved everyone wrong. But not because Messi was brilliant. More because it wasn’t him. But this time, on the tenth try, his supporting cast – who had let him down so many times – delivered.
Argentina defeated Brazil, mighty Brazil, 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro. Rodrigo De Paul fought a fiery midfield match. Defenders threw limbs at Neymar and held out. Angel Di Maria, who was thwarted by injury in previous finals, scored the only goal of the game in the first half with a wonderful lifter.
And Argentina finally ended a 28-year drought at major tournaments.
Messi was a pedestrian by his inviolable standards. The game, like previous Argentine finals, was hectic and fierce and ugly. At one point in the first half, both Messi and Neymar were on the grass at the Maracana Stadium. Yellow cards flashed early and often. Torn shorts and socks. Blood was drawn.
In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Argentines collapsed under similar, unfathomable pressures. The spirits of Gonzalo Higuain miss them Albiceleste and millions of starving supporters for years to come. At the World Cup, Germany and Mario Götze let them pay. At the Copa Americas, Chile sent them twice on penalties in distress. Messi withdrew briefly after the second.
But he returned, and his brilliance never faded. During this tournament he was 34 years old. With four goals and five assists, he still led Argentina to the final.
And after 95 grueling minutes, he dropped to his knees when a referee whistled. His face burst into tears of joy. His teammates flocked to him.
They hugged him tight. They picked him up and tossed him in the air.
Lionel Messi, the greatest of all time, finally had an international trophy as proof. He picked it up and his face no longer held the crushing weight of his nation. He smiled.
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