The news shook the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to its foundations and went global within seconds: Lionel Messi has played his last game for Argentina.
“It’s hard for me to assess things right now. The first thing that came to my head – and it’s something I thought about in the dressing room – was that it’s over, that the national team is finished for me,” said La Pulga in the mixed zone following Argentina’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Chile in Sunday’s Copa America Centenario final. “I’ve lost four finals… That’s how I feel. It’s all very sad.”
Visibly downcast, Messi looked as if he had given the decision some thought: “To make matters worse I went and missed my penalty. It was vital that I scored to put us ahead, but I missed it. I think this is the best thing for everyone. That’s it. I’ve done all I can. I’m going without having won a title with the [senior] national team.”
Time will tell if the shoot-out defeat to La Roja really is Messi’s last game with La Albiceleste. What is clear, however, is that USA 2016 has been a watershed in his international career.
The now-former Argentinian captain’s announcement overshadowed the match that had preceded it, 120 minutes of football in which Argentina tried everything they could to break Chile down. Yet, as was the case in the 2015 Copa America final, they were unable to do so, despite creating the odd opportunity.
The big difference on this occasion was that Messi, unlike last year, failed with his spot-kick, a miss made all the more telling by the fact that it came moments after Sergio Romero had denied Chile’s first penalty-taker, Arturo Vidal. It was an unexpected blow his team-mates seemed unable to recover from.
No-one was more surprised to hear of Messi’s retirement from international football than Chile keeper Claudio Bravo, the captain of the two-time Copa America champions and the Argentinian’s club-mate at Barcelona.
Recovering from the initial shock, which was clear to see for all those in the mixed zone, Bravo gave his reaction: “To my mind he’s the best in the world. We all know his qualities as a player and, above all, as a person. I hope he carries on playing for Argentina for many more years to come. You don’t win or lose games like this because of just one player.”