Time run­ning out for ‘Ar­gen­tine’ Messi

Hav­ing won sev­eral ti­tles for Barcelona, 31-year-old wants to win ‘some­thing’ for coun­try as Copa Amer­ica be­gins this week­end

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

Rio De Janeiro: With Ney­mar side­lined by an an­kle injury, Lionel Messi heads into the Copa Amer­ica this week­end as the com­pe­ti­tion’s main attraction but one with a des­per­ate need to end more than a decade of hurt with Ar­gentina.

The five-time Bal­lon d’or win­ner has one of the most im­pres­sive tro­phy hauls in foot­ball his­tory but there is a glar­ing void when it comes to na­tional team ac­co­lades.

Four Cham­pi­ons League crowns and 10 La Liga ti­tles with Barcelona are not matched by Ar­gentina suc­cess.

And the 31-year-old knows he’s run­ning out of time to rec­tify that anom­aly.

“I want to end my ca­reer hav­ing won some­thing with the na­tional team, or at least try to do so as many times as pos­si­ble,” he told Fox Sports last week.

Four fi­nals played with Ar­gentina, four de­feats, in­clud­ing the last two Copa fi­nals on penal­ties against Chile.

But the most painful was the 2014 World Cup fi­nal to Ger­many at the iconic Mara­cana, where Messi will hope to re­turn on July 7 for the Copa ti­tle de­cider.

That Ger­many de­feat be­gan a run of los­ing fi­nals in three suc­ces­sive years and after the last of those, a bit­terly dis­ap­pointed Messi an­nounced his in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ment.

He and his team-mates came in for a tor­rent of abuse and crit­i­cism.

“Peo­ple were at­tack­ing us from ev­ery side,” he said.

His re­tire­ment lasted just six weeks, though, and it was his hat-trick in Ar­gentina’s fi­nal qual­i­fier that se­cured a 3-1 win in Ecuador that sent the team to the World Cup in Rus­sia last year.

But, as so many times be­fore, Messi was un­able to re­cap­ture his Barca form while on in­ter­na­tional duty and de­jec­tion fol­lowed as the al­bice­leste were sent home in the sec­ond round after a 4-3 de­feat to even­tual win­ners France.

But while Messi then missed Ar­gentina’s next six matches — all friendlies — there was no talk of re­tire­ment this time.

His son Thi­ago “loves it when I play for the na­tional team,” Messi told Fox.

But the dis­ap­point­ments have kept pil­ing up de­spite a 10th La Liga crown se­cured in May.

‘Beau­ti­ful cup’ (sub head) Messi had made no se­cret at the start of the sea­son that win­ning the Cham­pi­ons League for the fifth time was his pri­or­ity as he wanted to bring that “beau­ti­ful cup back to Camp Nou”.

Things looked so good as Barca took a 3-0 ad­van­tage to An­field for the semi­fi­nal sec­ond leg last month.

What hap­pened next — an in­spired Liver­pool stormed to a 4-0 vic­tory and 4-3 ag­gre­gate suc­cess -- left as bit­ter a taste in Messi’s mouth as had the Ger­many loss five years ago.

“To lose a fi­nal of the World Cup is the most im­por­tant of all, it is a big dis­ap­point­ment,” he said in May.

But he ad­mit­ted that the Liver­pool loss felt a bit worse “be­cause we were win­ning and we didn’t ex­pect them to come back”.

Messi has long been tal­is­man for club and coun­try but he will be even more so in Brazil with a re­ju­ve­nated squad full of in­ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers.

But that hasn’t damp­ened ex­pec­ta­tion ei­ther within the group or the coun­try as a whole.

“We’re go­ing there with the same hope and de­sire as ever. Ar­gentina is go­ing through a process of change with young and new lads,” he told TYC Sports last week.

“For most of them it’s their first of­fi­cial tour­na­ment, but that won’t stop Ar­gentina try­ing to win the com­pe­ti­tion,” he added.

It’s 26 years since Ar­gentina last won the Copa Amer­ica, de­spite con­test­ing four of the last five fi­nals.

“It’s been a long time since Ar­gentina won it and we all want to cel­e­brate again, us and the fans want a ti­tle.”

None more so than Messi him­self, who turns 32 on June 24, the day after Ar­gentina’s fi­nal group B game against in­vi­tees and 2024 World Cup hosts Qatar, the reign­ing Asian cham­pi­ons. —AFP

—REUTERS

Lionel Messi, who has not won a sin­gle tro­phy for Ar­gentina, will go all out in Copa Amer­ica start­ing this week­end

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