Messi retires from int'l football as Chile wins Copa America

Lionel Messi's apparent last act in international football was to blaze his penalty over the bar as Argentina lose to Chile in the Copa America final.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Messi, who blazed his penalty over the bar, announced his retirement right after the Copa America final.

Chile may have triumphed in the most bruising of encounters against Argentina to lift the Copa America title, but it will be the shock retirement of Lionel Messi from international football that will dominate headlines in the days to come.

In a match which saw 36 fouls, two red cards, and countless stoppages, Chile held their nerve to win 4-2 on penalties for their second successive Copa title. And in the process Juan Antonio Pizzi's men denied Messi the one thing that has eluded him in an otherwise phenomenal career: a major title with Argentina.

He has won four Champions League and eight La Liga titles with Barcelona.

He has bagged football's top individual award, the Ballon D'Or a record five times. But in international colours he has been a shadow of his imperious self, and it appears he will be walking away from the game with a portion of his glittering cabinet empty.

Messi, who blazed his penalty over the bar, announced his retirement right after the Copa America final, saying "it's not for me" as Argentina's 23-year title drought stretched further.

"I tried so hard to be champion with Argentina. Now I am leaving without having managed it," Messi announced, leaving his teammates in shock. They hoped his decision was not irrevocable.

The 29-year-old only has the 2008 Olympics gold medal and an U20 World Cup title to show for in fixtures for Argentina. He surpassed Gabriel Batituta as his country's highest goal scorer last week. 

Messi played in three Copa America finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the 2014 World Cup final, and was on the losing side every time. Argentina failed to score in all four matches.

Sergio Aguero, Messi's best friend on the team, said he had never seen the mood in the dressing room so low while goalkeeper Sergio Romero suggested he might rethink his decision.

"I think Leo spoke in the heat of the moment because we missed that great chance," said Romero.

Messi's retirement sparked disbelief in his homeland and sports newspaper Ole immediately launched a social media campaign, #NotevayasLeo, or Don't go Leo, to get him to stay.

Beating the best

The mood in the Chilean camp was in sharp contrast, however, and coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said his team will really "enjoy" themselves.

Pizzi said he was proud of the way his team rose to the occasion to overcome the star-studded Argentine side.

"Before them today was the number one team in the world, with the best players in the world and the best player in history," he said.

The 4-2 penalty shootout victory was the second in a row for Chile, who also triumphed over world number one Argentina and their lynchpin Lionel Messi after a 0-0 stalemate in last year's final at home in Santiago.

"It's always very hard to predict when a match is going to be decided by penalty kicks," Pizzi, who took over the fifth-ranked Chileans in January, told reporters.

Disappointing final

The tension of the penalty shootout barely made up for a disappointing game with few memorable moments for a sellout 82,000 crowd. The bulk of first half action involved referee Heber Lopes, who sent off Chile's Marcelo Diaz on 27 minutes for a second crude challenge on Messi, before Argentina's Marcos Rojo was given a straight red for a rough tackle on Vidal about 15 minutes later.

Three others were booked, including Messi for diving, in a first half that had as many cards as shots on goal. The second half provided more of the same and although Chile, who have never beaten Argentina in open play in 26 previous Copa America encounters, at least managed to call Romero into action, neither side created any clear cut chances.

The 30 minutes of extra time was not much different, although Vargas came close for Chile and substitute Sergio Aguero had a header tipped over by Bravo.

Five-times World Player of the Year Messi, who surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina's top scorer in the semi-final against the United States, was heavily marked and had few chances to show his brilliance.

"It's not easy to explain," said Argentina coach Gerardo Martino.

"Argentina should have won that game. It hurts. There are situations we can explain football-wise and other situations that can be explained, if you will, talking about our luck."

The tournament was played in the US for the first time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the inaugural competition and expanded to include six teams from North and Central America along with the 10 from South America.

TRTWorld, Reuters