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Heart-breaking losses, Paneka penalties and a retirement: A Complete History of Lionel Messi’s failures with Argentina

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Argentina and Lionel Messi face Neymar and Brazil in the Copa America 2020 final

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Heart-breaking losses, Paneka penalties and a retirement: A Complete History of Lionel Messi’s failures with Argentina

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Siddhant Lazar

07/10/2021

Arguably the greatest player ever, Argentina’s most capped and their record goalscorer, with twice the number of goals Diego Maradona managed. And yet, for all those stats, all his trophies and those individual accolades, Messi’s time with Argentina has been nothing but a series of heart-breaks.

August 17th 2005.

A scraggy looking teenager, no more than five foot five, walked out for his debut and walked back in less than a minute later. Lionel Messi had just made his debut for Argentina with the hype train flying full-steam ahead and had earned his first red card but while the start was the worst possible one for both parties, sixteen years later and nothing has changed. 

Argentina have won a grand total of zero trophies since their wunderkid transformed himself from a kid to a footballing god. Sixteen years with arguably the greatest player to ever walk on a football pitch and yet they’ve won nothing. They have, however, finished runners-up in the Copa America on numerous occasions since, have a runners-up medal at the 2014 World Cup and a few more awards.

But over that time period, the team have mastered the art of losing at key moments, missing immense chances and watching as their superstar does everything but. It’s actually rather lovely to watch, for a neutral, especially when a side as supposedly big as Argentina somehow manage to make the same mistakes again and again over the years. Mental errors, missing sitters, penalty misses, the lack of a proper coach, the lack of a coherent defense and just issues all around.

Messi made his debut as a young 18-year-old, he’s now 33. So ahead of another Copa America final, we take a look at their finest losses over the years.

Brazil 3-0 Argentina: Copa America final 2007

Now, let’s be fair here because Lionel Messi in 2007 was nothing more than a young teenager who had finally enjoyed what was a breakout season with Barcelona. 14 league goals in 26 appearances, with the Catalan giants finishing second behind Real Madrid, and only Ronaldinho outscored him. It was an impressive season but the Argentine wasn’t at his best all tournament and it showed.

That isn’t to say Argentine wasn’t as they finished top of their group and then Messi decided to show up with two goals in his next two games. To be honest, they were against Peru and Mexico with the Albiceleste winning by a combined 7-0 margin, but still. And then came the final, Messi tried his darndest to drag his side across the line but Brazil were simply too much. The might of Elano, Julio Baptista, Dani Alves and a Robert Ayala own goal proved far too much to handle.

Argentina 0-4 Germany: 2010 World Cup Quarter-finals

45 goals for Barcelona on their way to a double-winning season, the year after they won the treble and thus Argentina’s hopes and dreams were pinned on Lionel Andres Messi. But four games into the tournament and the superstar had yet to do anything for his country. Two assists, against South Korea, were the extent of his work with Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez thriving instead.

Three wins out of three in the group stages, a tough test against Mexico in the Round of 16 and once again, things seemed like they were going Argentina’s way again. Diego Maradona at the helm, the top scorers in South Africa going into the quarter-finals and then Germany walked up to the plate. Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and co all danced rings around the Argentines as they watched and stood still.

Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and co finished up with more than three hundred shots at goal, but Neuer was never really threatened. 

Argentina 1-1 Uruguay (Uruguay won 5-6 on penalties): 2011 Copa America quarter-finals

A 41 goal season and 21 assists for Barcelona which meant that once again Argentina walked into the Copa America as the favourites to lift the trophy because of Messi. That is despite everything and the Albiceleste nearly proved their critics right with a horrendous start to the tournament, drawing their opening two games. They won the third game, 3-0 over Costa Rica, to finish second in their group and set up a clash against the other favourites, Uruguay.

And they lived up to that tag by taking a very early lead although Argentina equalised eleven minutes later via a gorgeous Lionel Messi assist no less. But after that, it was all the goalkeepers and pure luck with both sides having goals ruled out, rightfully, for offside. Not only that, Messi and Forlan tried their level best to push their teams over the top but 120 minutes refused to separate them. Then came penalties, Carlos Tevez had his spot-kick saved and the rest is history.

Germany 1-0 Argentina: 2014 World Cup final

Two World Cup finals had been contested between Argentina and Germany before this game with each side winning one a-piece but with Lionel Messi at his best, this was his chance. Argentina were on a proper roll having won all six of their games until the final; a list that included wins over the Netherlands and Belgium plus a 1-0 over Switzerland after extra-time and Messi was at the center of everything.

Then came the game itself and Argentine rued their missed chances. Gonzalo Higuain had the best one about 20 minutes into the game via a terrible back-pass from Germany and missed it. He then put the ball into the net….but was well offside. The Germans hit the bar, Messi was his wonderful self and nobody could even handle him. Rodrigo Palacio had a chance, Romero pulled off a few beyond impressive saves, but in the end, Mario Gotze had the final say.

Messi did win the Golden Ball though, but something tells me he would have preferred another golden trophy.

Chile 0-0 Argentina (Chile won 4-1 on penalties): 2015 Copa America final

The loss in the 2014 World Cup final seemed not to hurt Argentina as they competed in the Copa America a year later but they endured a tough start. Paraguay held them to a 2-2 draw but wins over Uruguay and Jamaica, by a 1-0 margin, meant that they qualified at the top of their group. Wins over Colombia (via penalties) and Paraguay in the knockout stages set up a mouth-watering clash against Chile in the final of the Copa America and the world couldn't wait.  

But while both teams had more than enough chances to find the net, things didn’t quite go their way.  Extra time changed nothing for either side and once again, Argentina were in a penalty shootout. However, while Messi hit the net, Higuain sent his effort into the stands and Banega’s had his saved which meant the pressure was on Lionel Messi's former Barcelona teammate in Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean stepped up to the spot and then paneka-ed his decisive spot-kick into the net to hand Chile their first international trophy.

Argentina 0-0 Chile (Chile won 4-2 on penalties): 2016 Copa America final

Lionel Messi vs Alexis Sanchez yet again in another Copa America final and the stakes were just as high as they were the first time around. The two were placed in the same group, with Argentina winning the clash 2-1 and topping their group but Chile finished a close second. However, big knockout wins over both Venezuela and USA followed with Lionel Messi netting 5 goals in the process and once again, the stage was set.

Although what followed was a scrap-fest. Both teams battled their way through and both were down to ten men before the half-time whistle. Yet that refused to stop Lionel Messi from thriving as he weaved, danced and wiggled his way past defenders time after time. Chile had no answer beyond physically stopping him and it worked, with the Argentine frustrated at the end of things. It meant that once the penalty shoot-out arrived, things became very interesting. 

Arturo Vidal had his saved and then Lionel Messi stepped up. The pressure of a nation, the fate of his legacy and the battle to outdo Diego Maradona on the international stage and the hearts of Argentinians all over the world was just too much for the forward. He hammered his well over the crossbar as stunned fans looked on and Argentina never recovered as Lucas Biglia had his decisive penalty saved, Francisco Silva scored and Chile had just done the double over Argentina.

Lionel Messi retired in anger and said “It's very hard, but the decision is taken. Now I will not try more and there will be no going back.” He made his comeback three months later.

Brazil 2-0 Argentina: 2019 Copa America semi-finals

The entire premise of this tournament was built around the chance that Brazil and Argentina would face each other in the finals of the Copa America in Brazil. But fate had other ideas with Brazil finishing first in their group and Argentina second in theirs, which meant that a semi-final clash was inevitable and that’s exactly what happened. But while Neymar had many Brazilian fans worried that their side wouldn’t be able to cope, things didn’t go according to plan.

Brazil walked into the half-time break with a goal to their name while Argentina watched Sergio Aguero hit the bar and Messi do practically nothing. He looked a little jaded and the second half changed nothing, and with Brazil playing the team game perfectly, they looked likely to score the next goal. The Selecao did just that, via a rapier counter-attack that left the Albiceleste breathless, and like that Argentina were out once again at a decisive stage in another major tournament.

They would finish third in the end while Brazil would lift the Copa America but once again, that’s not the result anyone in Albiceleste blue wanted. It also meant that going into the 2021 Copa America final, Argentina haven’t beaten Brazil in a major competitive fixture since 2005. Not a stat anyone wants weighing on them.

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