By Jon Essien
“Argentina Champions, Lionel Messi Champion,” Argentina TV declared as fans took to streets screaming out with delight after the final whistle was blown at the Maracanã stadium in Brazil.
La Albiceleste won their first major title in 28 years, while Messi – who was uncharacteristically quiet in the 1-0 win over Brazil on Saturday, finally secured a winners medal in a blue and white shirt.
Having won the FIFA World Player of the Year a record six times, Messi is widely regarded as one of the greatest players ever to play the game, alongside Pele and countryman Diego Maradona.
However, his inability to win an international title with Argentina always left a question mark beside his name on the exclusive list of all-time greats.
Angel di Maria proved the match-winner with his superb lob, after taking down Rodrigo de Paul’s lofted pass mid-way through the first-half and thus, bringing Messi’s international trophy drought to an end.
The Barcelona star has come close to winning a major trophy on several occasions in his career but has always fallen at the final hurdle when representing Argentina.
He even reached the 2014 World Cup final and was named player of the tournament but it was Germany who lifted the trophy.
We have seen Messi pained, broken and even in tears after defeats. Until now, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has lost three Copa America finals (2007, 2015 and 2016).
Messi even announced his international retirement after missing a penalty in the shoot-out of the 2016 Copa America final against Chile, but was persuaded to rescind his decision.
He changed his mind a few weeks later and led an inconsistent Argentina to the World Cup finals in Russia where once again they crashed out to eventual champions France in the last 16.
After 15 years of hurt and near-misses, Messi finally has the major international title with his country.
The 34-year-old was in a superb form over the last few weeks, scoring four times – including two trademark free kicks – and setting up five goals, to finish as the competition’s top-scorer and most valuable player.
The victory was Argentina’s 15th Copa America triumph and means they draw level with Uruguay as the all-time leading winners.