East Rutherford, NJ – Everything was set up correctly. In front of a sell-out MetLife Stadium, Lionel Messi and Argentina had managed to find themselves scoreless after 120 minutes of soccer and the day was ripe for Argentina to finally win a major tournament.
Sergio Romero just made a monster save on Chile‘s first penalty kick. Argentina’s talisman, their favored son, the international superstar in Messi stepped to the penalty spot. In some alternate universe, Messi made that PK. In this one, much to the disappointment of Argentina supporters, Messi performed what can only be called a shank, and sent the ball shockingly skyward.
Then, just as shockingly, Messi announced his retirement for International Soccer.
BREAKING: Lionel Messi tells Argentine television he's retiring from international football.
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) June 27, 2016
In both the 2015 and 2016 editions of Copa America, Argentina never trailed. They ended up winning neither tournament. Much like the World Cup Final, Messi did not have that magical moment at MetLife that everyone in attendance was expecting. Once again, Argentina was left wanting, hanging their heads as they watched Chile celebrate victory.
“Leo Messi is an incredible player,” one Salt Lake City based fan, who travelled across the US following Argentina, told Last Word on Sports after the match. “But we need him to show up in finals.”
To be fair, it seemed that Chile knew that if they were able to successfully stop Messi, Argentina would be prone. Often Messi would receive the ball from a teammate and find himself surrounded by four Chilean players. As great as Messi is, there is only so much a player can do to get himself out of trouble. The tactic certainly took Argentina off of their rhythm.
It was not like the Argentinians did not have their chances. Once the dying minutes of the second half and extra time hit, Argentinas’s sense of urgency grew. The Argentine attack swelled and it seemed as if a goal was inevitable. As the pressure mounted on Messi’s shoulders, that goal never came.
Then came the “Casey at the Bat” moment.
Incredibly, this was Messi’s stage. From the moment he scored his hat trick in the very first group match coming off the bench, Messi seemed refreshed. He seemed that he was finally ready to claim what was rightfully his and silence the naysayers.
At the end, the pressure was just too much. And just like that, Messi exits stage left.
The weight of the world’s game can crush anyone at any level. For the world’s greatest player, that weight was unmanageable, and the footballing world at the end was a little bit less shiny.
Photo courtesy of Bill Twomey Photography.