Over? Not so soon, please
So near, yet so far. An old story got replayed in the Copa America Centenario final.
Lionel Messi, the greatest player of his generation, perhaps football's best ever, stopped once again one shot away from the Cup.
The No. 10 grabbed his shirt, clenched his teeth and hid his face with his hands moments after sending the penalty wide of the crossbar. A dazed, pained look on his bearded face said it all: that missed spot-kick possibly cost Argentina the cup.
Messi, the record five-time Fifa Player-of-the-Year, winner of four Champions League titles and eight Spanish la liga crowns with Barcelona, remained without a title in an Argentine jersey.
The tournament-grown beard could not bring any final luck to Messi, who lost a final for the third year in a row and the fourth in all with Albiceleste. As a rising star back in the 2007 Copa final, the fleet-footed forward was denied by Brazil, and as superstar in the 2014 World Cup final, he was shattered by Germany in an extra-time defeat.
"It's been four finals, it's not meant for me. I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn't get it, so I think it's over," Messi, who has won every possible glory for his club Barcelona, groaned after the match.
He was crushed. He thought it was jinxed. He felt it is not going to happen anymore with the national team. So he said goodbye to the Argentine jersey.
At 29, he was at the perfect age and at the peak of his powers to embrace some glory with the national team. Little Leo desperately needed a success to surpass Diego Maradona, the football god of his country who thinks Messi is not man enough to be a leader, and silence the Argentine fans who believe Messi reserves his best only for his club.
The fire was burning inside his belly. The stage was all set for the little magician to bring home the football-mad nation's first major international title in 23 years. The script was ready. The goal-scoring machine hit the perfect groove early, scoring an electrifying 19-minute hattrick in the second half against Panama, pulling one in the 4-1 quarter-final win over Venezuela and curling home a magnificent free-kick against the US to become Argentina's highest goalscorer with 55.
And it was time for the final act of the last chapter against Chile, who beat Argentina in last year's Copa on shoot-outs. The Club King was in line to achieve a feat that is needed for his critics to place him in the same bracket with Pele and Maradona.
Sadly though, the Argentina captain could not put his signature on the final chapter on Sunday. He had the opportunity, only to see it slip away. It was not a match of the beautiful game, in which the world's best player had a terrible night at the office. Sure, Messi tried his best and drew the fouls that got Diaz sent off. He had a few good passes, tries at goal from free kicks, but other than those, he was a mess.
“I tried so hard to be [a] champion with Argentina. But it didn't happen. I couldn't do it. I think it's best for everyone, for me and for many people who want it. The choice for me is over, it is a decision. I tried many times [to be a champion] but did not,” Messi said in an emotion-choked voice.
But alas, not all stories end the way they should. Only God knows why the final chapter of the Messi story has been written differently. He will be 31 when the next World Cup takes place in Russia, and the football fans across the globe will keep their fingers crossed for Messi to have a change of heart. World football will be poorer without Messi.