By Gerald Lutchman
FINALLY, finally Lionel Messi has led his team to an international trophy.
The wait is over; the king has taken his crown. The prince jewel of Argentine football has become the crown jewel. After five failed attempts in major finals including the 2014 World Cup, he has finally put his demos to rest and claimed a Copa America championship on Saturday evening at the Maracanã.
This Argentine team seemed to be sure they were going to win, because after the game they had Argentine jerseys that read “Campeones de America” (Champions of America). It was an amazing emotional journey for the Argentina.
The game itself was what I expected. I knew this was not going to be a free flowing game because these two titans of South America usually have quite a brutal affair. It ended 1-0, with an Angel De Maria goal after a magical pass from Rodrigo De Paul. De Maria, starting the game brought impetus and vision. De Paul is an exciting young player and along with Giovani Lo Celso, represent a bright future for Argentina.
I also knew that the ankle injury Messi suffered in the semi-final when he played with a bloodied ankle and ran on it for a long time would affect him. Yet he played every minute of the game. It was a foul fest with 43 – 22 committed by Brazil, with nine yellow cards of which Argentina earned five. After the goal in the 20th minute Argentina had what they needed and like earlier in the competition trusted their defence and team to preserve the lead. Lionel Scaloni (Argentina’s coach) has instilled the missing aspect to the team- an eleven-man defence. It was amazing to see Laturo Martinez in defence so often, showing the importance of the collective.
Brazil would be very disappointed with their performance because this was the first game in the last six they have lost to Argentina in the Copa America. It is even more of a sour taste because this was the Maracanã and also Brazil’s first competitive lost since the 2018 one to Belgium in the World Cup.
This was Messi’s tournament – he has led in every department and collected the awards for Best Player and Top Goal Scorer. He had four goals, five assists, 19 created chances and four man of the match awards. Form the very first game we a saw a determined and focussed Messi. Even more amazing was the fact that this team was gelled and supported him.
The team was built around him and for him. Messi executed brilliantly. Emiliano Martinez, the Argentine goal keeper, has said earlier in the tournament that “I will give my life for Messi” and the star of the final De paul had said, “When Messi is the captain of your national team, you will follow him to war if he ask.”
This was a team with a difference not the infighting Argentina are accustomed to and it showed when the final whistle was blown. The entire team ran to Lionel Messi, embraced him and then picked him up and threw him repeatedly in the air.
You deserve it Messi because all true football lovers will never begrudge you this title for the joy you have brought to the beautiful game.