COPA 2021: Messi’s Last Chance?

He turns 34. Time's not on his side.

By  BET TO WIN  | Jun 10, 2021, 01:57 PM

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Despite all the success Lionel Messi has enjoyed at club level with his beloved Barcelona, the international stage has proved to be a daunting scene for the “Little Magician”. 

On June 13, the 47th edition of the COPA America gets underway in Brazil. It’s a tournament with extra significance to the Argentine star. It’s the one in which he can finally secure a major title with the Albiceleste. It’s also the one he can finally put to rest the lingering doubt over his playing legacy when he eventually exits the stage. 

He has come within touching distance of lifting a major trophy. He reached four finals with Argentina - the Copa America in 2007, 2015, and 2016 also the World Cup in 2014. All of which ended in heartbreak.

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Much of his country’s failure has been blamed on him despite playing in a team stacked with the talents of the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala amongst others. It seems quite unfair but also goes to show just how much is expected of him. 

And he hasn’t got long to go. He turns 34 years old during the competition. He’ll be 35 at next year’s Qatar World Cup and by the time of the next COPA in 2024, he’ll be 37.

Team Outlook

 
The last time the Sky Blue and White won South America’s premier competition was in 1993. It sounds crazy considering the talent this team has had over the years and head coach Lionel Scaloni is not an exception. He's got an exciting crop of players to work with.

A relatively young backline, an experienced midfield and forward line that on paper has always looked very attractive. In defense, he’s got to ensure that they’ll be stable enough to fend off some of the best-attacking players in the world. In midfield, he must get the right combination that’ll inspire attacks, something that it has failed at previously. 

Upfront, Argentina’s attack has been very pedestrian given the talent at their disposal. Over-reliance on Messi to create and score has been a problem. They’ve often looked bereft of ideas when Messi’s not been heavily involved. Scaloni needs to get this load off his back. He's got options.
 
 In Lautaro Martinez for example, they have a dependable and creative player who can be a good outlet in the final third. He's had an impeccable season with Serie A champions Inter Milan and can prove vital in the team's attack. The rest in the forward line should also step up and break the habit of always looking to Messi to bail them out. 

Whom Do They Face?

 
They start off with a tough tie against Chile. La Roja has beaten them twice in the final - 2015 and 2016. In their latest clash in the world cup qualifiers, Chile held them to a 1-1 draw with their other last two fixtures being closely contested.

Against lesser opposition like Bolivia and Paraguay, Argentina has created lots of opportunities but the conversion rate has been unimpressive. They’ll be very wary of this going into the tournament and if they really want this to be their tournament, Scaloni has to find a way his team can score even with limited opportunities.

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What Are Argentina’s Chances?

 
Alongside defending champions Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, the Sky Blue and White make up the major contenders for the COPA America title. Lionel Messi has made their intentions very clear. 

"I'm very excited and really hungry to do well.” He told the Argentine Football Association media. "In the last Copa America we left a good impression, but we can't just be happy with that.” he continued.

Messi knows that time is not on his side. He wants this more than ever and the rest of the squad better be as “hungry” as he is. 
 
The problem with Argentina is not the talent that they have in abundance. The problem has been getting them to play as a unit. If Scaloni can do this and get it right, then Messi may just wrap his summer with the one thing that he obviously longs for - a major title with Argentina.
 
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