Lionel Messi has already competed in three World Cups. The No.10 has played his heart out in four Champions League finals and dozens of La Liga and Spanish domestic cup finals. Despite all of this, Messi has likely never faced more pressure going into a match than he will face in the Copa America Centenario final, to be played at the unfamiliar New Jersey stadium.
Externally, pressure comes mainly from the Argentinian people. The phrase “If you don’t win this one, don’t bother coming home” is trending in Argentina. Former Argentinian national team coach Diego Maradona is making the phrase all the more popular as he makes his rounds on Argentinian television. Earlier in the summer, the former footballer criticised Messi directly, claiming that he had “no personality.”
Perhaps, the Argentinian people have been so vocal in their all-or-nothing attitude because they have grown weary of waiting. Argentina has not won a major trophy since claiming victory in the 1993 Copa America. In the past few years, the team has inched tantalisingly close to claiming more international victories only for opportunities to be snatched away in the final moments of hard fought matches.
Last year, Argentina lost to Chile in the Copa America final. The game went all the way to penalty kicks, but Chile prevailed. A year before that, Argentina lost the opportunity for World Cup glory when Germany’s Mario Gotze notched in a heartbreaker in the final minutes of extra time.
This historic Copa America Centenario final takes place just two days after Messi’s 29thbirthday, which has many pegging this match could very well be his last opportunity to captain his nation to major silverware.
Much pressure also comes from expectations that have been bolstered by Argentina’s current run of success. The team has won every matched played in 2016. In the latest FIFA national team rankings, Argentina was placed first. Now they have to prove worthy of that title. Argentina has recently faced Chile in a World Cup qualifier and in the first Copa America match for both countries. Plus, Argentina already beat Chile 2-1 in the first week of this year’s Copa competition.
Despite all of these lofty expectations, Messi’s team is dealing with internal issues. Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria, Augusto Fernandez, Nicolas Gaitan and Ever Bangea are all nursing injuries. Di Maria and Bangea have the highest possibility of being match fit for the final, but the rest of Argentina’s ailing footballers are still questionable. On top of all of this, the AFA is currently being managed by FIFA because the former president has been accused of fraud, and Messi himself has vocalized complaints against the organisation running his national team.
As impatient for major international victories as the Argentinian people are becoming, Messi and his squad must certainly be feeling that pressure. Despite captaining this team to all of those hard fought losses, it has in fact been Messi himself who has been the target of the most criticism.
Despite being almost unanimously hailed the best footballer in the world, Messi has been unable at this point in his career to win a major international title with Argentina. Despite his five Balon d’Ors, Golden Boots and plethora of trophies Messi has claimed both individually and with Barcelona, the No.10 must be even more influential than ever to finally earn a piece of silverware for his nation.
In Messi We Trust!