‘The happiness is immense’
Lionel Messi was uncharacteristically quiet in Argentina's 1-0 win over Brazil on Saturday but his performance was irrelevant compared to what the victory means – a first major title for Messi in the blue and white of the national side.
The Barcelona striker has won the FIFA World Player of the Year a record six times and is widely considered one of the greatest players ever to play the game, alongside Pele and countryman Diego Maradona.
But his inability to win an international title with Argentina always left an asterisk beside his name on the all-time greats list.
That is now gone after an emotional Copa America final at the Maracana stadium decided by a first half goal from Angel Di Maria.
After losing four times in finals, early exits in major tournaments, and even a decision to retire from the national team, the superstar celebrated a much-awaited title with Argentina.
Until Saturday, Messi's titles with Argentina were only the U-20 World Cup title in 2005 and a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. On Saturday Messi kissed the Copa America trophy and lifted it at age 34. The biggest gap in his decorated career is now closed.
The title ended Argentina's 28-year drought of major trophies, with Messi as the best player with four goals and five assists. The captain also broke the team's record for international appearances with 151 matches.
When Uruguayan referee Esteban Ostojich blew the final whistle, Messi knelt down on the pitch and covered his face with his hands.
"The happiness is immense," said Messi after the game as he also praised the attitude of the Argentina squad. "Many times I dreamed of this. "I had a lot of confidence in this group that became very strong since the last Copa America. It is a group of very good people, who always push forward, who never complain about anything."
And while many will say his greatness has been cemented, regardless of what he achieves with Argentina, this lengthy wait for a maiden senior trophy with his country will go a long way to silencing any doubters.
Repeated failures with Argentina have been painful for the forward, who went as far as announcing his retirement - before later reversing the decision - after losing a second consecutive Copa America final in 2016, his third defeat in the final of the competition and coming just two years after suffering a loss in the 2014 World Cup final.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni paid tribute to Lionel Messi, praising his team captain and revealing he played in the Copa America win over Brazil with an injury.
"If you knew the way that he played in the Copa America you'd love him even more," Scaloni told the reporters. "You can never do without a player like him, even when he is not fully fit like in this game and the previous one."
"You can never do without a player like him, even when he is not fully fit like in this game and the previous one."
The 34-year old had shown his frustration with the defeats, retiring after losing the 2016 Copa America to Chile only to return to the international fold a few weeks later.
"In the end he did not throw in the towel and he succeeded," Scaloni said.
"We are talking about the best footballer of all time and everyone knew how important it was for him to win a title with the national team."
There also remains the prospect of Messi going for what would likely be his last chance of winning the World Cup - something Argentina have not done since 1986 - should he lead his country out in Qatar at the age of 35 in December 2022.