Hours after Argentina suffered a shock defeat from Chile in the Copa America Centenario final, Argentinian captain and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi announced his retirement from international football.
The Argentine great missed a crucial penalty and Chile didn’t miss the opportunity to snatch away the match in a 4-2 penalty shootout.
Argentina has now lost their third major tournament final in a row which includes 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America.
“It’s a hard moment for me and the team, and it’s difficult to say, but its over with the Argentina team,” said a visibly upset Messi.
“I’ve done all I can, I’ve been in four finals and it hurts not to be a champion… For me the national team is over,” added the 29-year-old five-time world footballer of the year.
Messi missed Argentina’s opening penalty in the shoot-out after both the teams failed to score a goal in the extra time.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero got the shoot-out off to a dream start by saving Chile’s opening spot-kick but Messi then surrendered the initiative by blazing wildly over the bar.
A further miss by Lucas Biglia put Chile in the box seat and they duly held their nerve to win 4-2.
Post the match, Argentina coach Gerardo Martino gave no inkling of Messi’s decision in the press conference. But he did sympathise with his captain.
“He feels the way any football player must feel when he gets to a final and then loses… Certainly to lose again is too painful to act any differently,” Martino said.
Interestingly, the final was a repeat of last year’s Copa America final. Then too, Chile clinched the match on penalties after a goalless draw.
“The final result is all that counts…and the final result is Chile winning by penalties so there’s not much to analyse,” Martino said.
“We lost the game and we left empty-handed.”
Jubilant Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi meanwhile said he hoped his side would continue to improve after clinching back-to-back Copa America crowns.
“We’re going to enjoy this,” said Pizzi.
This was Messi’s fourth straight defeat in a major final while representing Argentina.
Messi was also a part of the losing Argentine side in the final of the 2007 Copa America.
Despite a glittering career that has seen him be named FIFA World Player of the Year on five occasions, Messi has often faced baffling criticism from Argentina fans.
Although universally regarded as one of the greatest footballers ever, he has regularly been criticised for his failure to land a major title in the colours of Argentina.
Messi’s failure to match the achievements in the Argentina jersey of Diego Maradona, who single-handedly carried the team to victory in the 1986 World Cup, has often been held against him.
Maradona himself has often taken potshots at Messi, criticizing him on the eve of the tournament for a perceived “lack of personality.”
“He’s a really good person, but he has no personality,” Maradona said in Paris shortly before the start of Euro 2016.
“He lacks the character to be a leader.”
Last year, Messi recovered from his losses to help Barcelona win the Spanish title once more and was relishing the prospect of leading Argentina to glory in the Copa America Centenario.
But, Argentina’s wait year wait for a major title continues. It’s been 23 years since the team kissed the trophy.