Lionel Messi will play a new final in Maracana. He no longer fights for the world title, as in 2014 in the final against Germany, but for his fourth attempt to conquer America (2007, 2015 and 2016). He does not care, but almost. His struggle, at 34 years old, goes the other way: “My biggest dream is to get a title with Argentina. I was close many times but it never happened. I’m going to look for it until it happens ”, repeats the 10th. He will face one of his great friends, Neymar, leader of the great rival of Albiceleste, Brazil.
After a convulsive season at Barcelona, which began facing the president Josep Maria Bartomeu and with his attempt to leave the club of his life, to end with Joan Laporta at the head of the Catalan entity and with his desire to stretch his bond, Messi landed in Buenos Aires on May 26. He knew that on June 30, if his father and Laporta did not agree on the terms of his new contract, he would be a free player. It didn’t bother him. “Leo only thinks about the national team,” they assured from the Ezeiza campus. The appointed day passed and Messi, for the first time since he was 13 years old, stopped being a Barcelona player. On the 10th, according to Lionel Scaloni’s coaching staff, he did not flinch. He still had the same idea in mind: to win something with the Argentine team after four lost finals.
A few days before Messi arrived in Buenos Aires, Colombia, due to the social and economic conflict he is going through, he lost the organization of the Copa América. Argentina was left alone as organizer. But the pandemic is hitting South America hard. The 380,000 new infections that were encrypted in the last fortnight of May forced the country to refuse to host. Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, appeared to lend a hand to Conmebol. Brazil, as in 2019, once again received the Copa América. In Canarinha, Neymar and Casemiro, supported by Tite, mutinied. Messi and his group, in silence. “Since we are here, we have to play. We have been playing all year in worse situations and the South American tie is being played ”, assured one of the leaders of the Albiceleste.
The will of the Argentine team was not by chance. “We still have the team in training and the only way to consolidate ourselves is by competing. Let Brazil do what it wants ”, insisted the same sources. Argentina tied the two games in the South American tie – against Chile (1-1) and against Colombia (2-2) – but before the Copa América premiere, again against La Roja, Messi, more honest than rebellious , the politically correct curtain was drawn: “It is time to strike and it could be in this America’s Cup.” The path of Albiceleste in Brazil was, as in 2019 (at that time Scaloni was still interim), from less to more. Then, his last rival was also Brazil, but in the semifinals. A duel that marked a before and after in Rosario. The change, in any case, was not in the field. “Brazil handles everything. Everything is arranged for them ”, he complained, as soon as the match ended at Mineirao (2-0).
If his game accepted all kinds of comparisons with Maradona, his outburst, without justification other than the rage of defeat, brought him closer to Pelusa also in front of the microphones. The fans celebrated the attitude of the Flea. And he, finally Argentine in Argentina, continued on the same path. Sing the anthem loudly, challenge opponents and, above all, play soccer. You have never seen a Messi so decisive with the Albiceleste. And he emerged when, out of innocence or complicity, his companions stopped just looking for him. In the 19 games he played in the World Cups, the 10 scored six goals (none in the direct knockout duels) and distributed seven assists. A share of 0.68. Before Brazil 2021, the incidence of the 10 in the Copa América was 0.77 per game, which translated into nine goals and 12 goals in 27 games.
More goals than ever
In this edition, La Pulga has four goals and five assists in six games. Their numbers stretch to 1.5. In addition, in the only two goals for the Albiceleste in which he did not collaborate in the finalization or in the last pass, it was he who started the play. Messi, like never before, plays as he trains. “He is very focused,” they emphasize in the coaching staff. Present in all the minutes of the Albiceleste (nothing new), the 10 did not miss a training (very new) in the 45 days that he has been concentrating. “He is happy,” add the same sources. In fact, accustomed to celebrating his birthdays in the national team, on June 24 (his anniversary) he allowed his teammates to publish the videos of his celebration. And the joy of the 10th, who makes video calls every day with his wife and three children, was public.
Focused and happy, essentially a total footballer, on his third visit to Pele’s land, the Albiceleste Messi looks like Barça’s Messi. And in Brazil they celebrate it. If there is even a part of the crooked that wants the victory of 10. An exaggerated condescension for Neymar. And that the PSG striker had wanted the final against his friend. “I am a Brazilian with a lot of pride and with a lot of love”, began the 10th, paraphrasing the typical song of stadiums in Brazil. And he continued with less joke: “Being in the national team and listening to the fans singing was always my dream. I could never go against Brazil, be it in sports, in a beauty pageant, in the Oscars or whatever … If Brazil is there, I go with Brazil. Brazilians who think otherwise? I respect them, but go to hell, “Neymar posted on Instagram.
Argentina, finally, wants Messi. Brazil, surprisingly, takes care of Messi. The 10 only needs to free himself from his old obsession. It will have nothing less than Maracana as a witness.