Lionel Messi ended his long wait for an international title as Argentina secured the Copa America crown for the first time since 1993. Angel Di Maria’s strike was good enough for the Albicelestes to overcome Brazil in the final at the Maracana, ending the nation’s drought at the competition.
At the final whistle, every player in blue and white converged on Messi, knowing the importance of the result to his legacy. No player in world football has been put under greater pressure in major international tournaments than the 34-year-old. Until now, his attempts had ended in failure, none more painful than Argentina’s defeat at the hands of Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.
Lionel Scaloni and his men have the opportunity to regroup after their success and aim to carry the momentum of their triumph in the 2022 World Cup. Argentina is backed in the football betting odds at 12/1 to win the Jules Rimet Trophy, and if Messi is fit and firing then they have an excellent chance of achieving the feat now that the forward is free from the weight of expectation.
On the other hand, Messi will be another year older and whether he can maintain his excellence in the final third at the age of 35 remains to be seen. He has played a lot of games during his career and will no doubt be in the middle of a fierce campaign when the World Cup begins in winter 2022 in Qatar. Messi will not only be battling other sides in the tournament but also father time.
Messi was sensational in Copa America, leading the way with goals in the competition. He was named the best player at the tournament due to his excellence in the final third. However, against Brazil in the final, he was largely nullified before missing a good opportunity towards the end of the game, which would have killed off the contest. Di Maria’s goal proved that even Messi needs support on occasions. In Copa America, he received the support that he sorely lacked in the 2014 World Cup.
Argentina does have a problem with their next generation of talent. Messi will be 35 at the World Cup, while Sergio Aguero and Di Maria will be 34. Lautaro Martinez is the shining light for the future but was off the pace in the Copa America final. He did score three goals over the course of the competition and did impress at times, but whether he is ready to take on the mantle to ease the pressure on Messi is another matter.
The 23-year-old has the chance to develop into a superstar at Inter Milan and already has proven his worth to his club side by playing a decisive role in their Serie A triumph. Martinez now has an international prize to match his domestic achievement.
He now needs to become the main man through the middle for the Albicelestes, becoming the player that draws interest from opposing teams. If he can raise the level of his game to a dominant standard, it will allow Messi to relax in what could be his swansong for Argentina. It may just be enough to secure the World Cup for the first time since 1986.