As soon as Lionel Messi skied his spot-kick well over the crossbar and buried his face into his jersey, the harsh criticism was already flying his way, even before Argentina had even lost.
Obviously, missing the penalty played a key role in the eventual loss, but it shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Messi was the best player on the pitch for the majority of the match.
But as per the usual, the media puts the blame on the star player, not his teammates, who, for the third year running missed clear-cut opportunities that would’ve put Argentina in front.
And Messi’s decision to retire after the heartbreaking defeat isn’t cowardly. It’s logical.
His final game donning the iconic blue and white kits sums up his entire international career. Leo played his part in trying to capture the trophy, constantly getting his teammates the ball in dangerous positions. But, like we’ve seen many times before, they let him down.
Lionel has said himself, “When the day comes when I’m not enjoying it [football], I’ll retire”. And for the first time ever, as Messi time and time again took on the defense 1 against 4, he looked like he was no longer enjoying the game that had never failed to bring a smile to his face, and to the faces of millions around the world.
The people of Argentina and the media alike will still characterize the decision to retire as a cowardly act, and question his loyalty to Argentina. But in reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Leo has a dual-citizenship in Spain, and could’ve easily joined his Barcelona teammates with the Spanish national team. But his first love was with Argentina, and he could only watch as Spain won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup, and Euro 2012 consecutively. This quote from 2011 exemplifies his passion and loyalty towards his native country (translated):
“I knew Spain wanted me. They made an undeniable offer. But I love my culture, my country. I lived there for 12 years and the rest of my life in Spain. I could have been a World Cup winner. But I want to do it with my country. Sometimes I feel jealous of my Barca teammates who have a World Cup, but my first love is Argentina. I know we can win a World Cup… We’ll do it for the people…”
And for even further for proof against the “Messi isn’t passionate for Argentina” theory, his reaction to this goal says a lot. Known for his quiet demeanor on the pitch, his emotions let loose after this group stage goal against Bosnia. GROUP STAGE. BOSNIA.
While football “experts” may try and say that these 3 consecutive losses in finals dent the legacy of Messi, that just shouldn’t be the case.
Diego Maradona, who is thought of as one of the best international performers ever, had one of the great World Cup tournament performances in 1986. However, in the final, with his “legacy” on the line, Argentina needed three goals. While they did score them and put an exclamation point on Maradona’s heroic tournament, none of the goals were from Diego himself. It was his teammates that cemented his “legacy”.
And in 2014, Messi had a Maradona-esque World Cup, willing Argentina all the way to the final. And in the final itself, Argentina needed just one goal to put a cap on a tournament for the ages from Messi. But unlike Maradona, Lionel was unlucky, as his teammates couldn’t deliver, with teammate Gonzalo Higuaín infamously shanking this 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper.
The next two years were déjà vu, with Higuaín missing these two sitters in the finals of the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas.
The people of Argentina never appreciated Leo Messi the way they should have. While Barcelona fans adore him and cheer even louder when he’s down, Argentine’s disrespect him every chance they get. And now they’ll have to beg him back to the national team if they don’t want to slip down the steep slope towards football irrelevance.