Messi’s leadership finds its mark
A nervy atmosphere had gripped the final moments of the Copa America final but as soon as the clock had stopped, Lionel Messi sank to his knees, his fists pumping the air as teammates rushed in to plunge into euphoria alongside him. Tinged with the light blue and white of Argentina, the veil had lifted as Messi prevailed after numerous heartbreaks with the national team to find the sweet release of ending Argentina's 28-year old wait for a trophy and ending his own wait for an international trophy.
It all felt surreal, heartened by blood and tears but the unity that had transcended Argentina's heartbreaks to usher them to glory, felt like the ending of a great injustice in Messi's career. Messi's ankle had to pay a price in blood during the semifinal against Colombia, his sock growing redder by the minute as he dragged his team on through to the final, playing the entire second half of that semifinal injured.
There were no real 'Messi moments' in the final, rather far from it, in fact, he would go on to miss the only real chance he had in the match when he left Brazil goalkeeper Ederson Moares on his back only to lose his footing before taking the shot during the final moments of the match. That singularity of that moment could have been a big focus point if the result had been different, but would now be remembered as nothing but a mere blip.
The Angel Di Maria goal was the moment that Argentina needed to scrape through to end a long wait.
Such moments come to define matches, tip the balance from one side to another and in fact, just in Messi's case, come to define careers as well. There was no defining heroic moment in the final from Messi, who according to Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, played the entirety of the match with injury. There were sharp movements, flicks and dribbles but there were also lost balls and missed passes but the one aspect that cannot be defined by a single instance but was apparent throughout this tournament was Messi's determination to lead.
His body language, taking blows for his side had inspired those around him and they played for him. Away from the snooping cameras, Messi's task of revitalizing the mentality of the 'old guard' of Angel Di Maria, Nicolas Otamendi or Sergio Aguero must have been immense in the dressing room while his effort made the younger generation believe. Far from the four goals and five assists that helped Argentina to the final, it was his leadership and mentality that, coursed through the rest to inspire, made the difference. "The happiness is immense," said Messi after the game. "Many times I dreamed of this."
It was at the very Marcana stadium seven years ago that Messi cried as Argentina lost in the World Cup final. This time the victors' podium embraced him and the arguments against his career will have to take a back seat. His heroics lay not in moments but a whole lot more which finally brought Argentina's deliverance.