Chile win Copa; Messi quitting Argentina
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (AP):
Lionel Messi put his penalty kick over the crossbar, grabbed his shirt, clenched his teeth, and covered his face with both hands.
A few minutes later, he walked off the field, a dazed, pained look on his bearded face. The greatest player of his generation, perhaps soccer's best ever, he was still without a title on Argentina's national team - one, he says, may never come.
"The national team is over for me," he told the Argentine network TyC Sports after Chile beat the Albiceleste on Sunday night for the Copa AmÈrica title. "It's been four finals. It's not meant for me. I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn't get it, so I think it's over."
Chile beat Argentina in the final for the second straight year, 4-2 in the shoot-out following a 0-0 tie that ended an expanded 16-nation Copa in the United States to mark the championship's 100th anniversary.
Messi, five-time FIFA Player of the Year, winner of four Champions League titles and eight Spanish La Liga crowns with Barcelona, was crushed. Much of his nation had counted on him and the top-ranked Albiceleste to bring home the nation's first major championship since 1993.
Playing two days after his 29th birthday, Messi lost a final for the third year in a row and the fourth time overall with Argentina. There was also the 2007 Copa final against Brazil, when he was still a wunderkind, and then an extra-time loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup.
Considered alongside Brazil's Pele and Argentina's Diego Maradona as the sport's greatest, Messi won the titles at the under-20 and Olympic (under-23) levels for Argentina. But in the minds of many, he needs a championship with the senior national team to solidify his place in history.
"Messi's numbers are unparalleled, and I think they'll remain that way forever because it's impossible for a football player to do what Messi has done," said Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, who is from Argentina. "My generation can't compare him to Maradona - that's for my generation, because of what Maradona did for Argentine soccer. But I think the best player ever played today, here in the United States."
A crowd of 82,026 filled MetLife Stadium - the largest to see a soccer game in New Jersey - and many wore Messi's No. 10 jersey in Argentina's blue and white and Barcelona's navy and maroon.
Francisco Silva converted the shoot-out finale for the fifth-ranked La Roja after goalkeeper Claudio Bravo - Messi's Barcelona teammate - made a diving stop on Lucas Biglia's attempt.
On an ill-tempered evening that included a first-half ejection on each side and eight yellow cards, the game was scoreless through regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, with Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain missing a clear goalscoring opportunity for the third straight final. Argentina outshot Chile 16-4 and La Roja collapsed three, four, and even five defenders around Messi, then chopped down the diminutive attacker when he tried to accelerate towards the goal.
Messi, who scored five goals in the tournament, sent a free kick that Sergio Aguero nearly headed in 10 minutes into extra time, only to have Bravo jump and extend his right hand to tip the ball over the crossbar. Messi's free kick in extra time went off the wall.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved the opening kick by Arturo Vidal, and up-stepped Messi, Argentina's captain and career-scoring leader, with 55 goals. He sent his shot into the stands, stunning himself, both teams and the crowd.
"The burden of the consecutive games (lost) has been accumulating these last two years," Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said. "He feels like you would expect a player to feel after playing and losing a final."
For Argentina and Messi, titles keep slipping away.