It was there for the taking, and yet Argentina falls again.
The controversial Argentina loss to Chile jeopardizes Messi’s legacy and places him, once again, at the forefront of the aftermath.
This is Messi’s fourth cup final loss and third straight summer loss. He has won the Olympics and a youth World Cup, but he has yet to win any major trophy with his country at the senior level. And the reality is that he should have. This is an Argentinian team oozing with talent, debatably the best in the world, and in the past three years at least one title should have been theirs - and they know it.
From the opening whistle, the play was chippy. Both teams exhibited a level of aggression and tension that escalated out of hand. Unfortunately, the referee used this as an opportunity to stamp his mark on the game. Yellow cards flew early and often. In the first half, two incorrect red card decisions transformed the landscape of the game, and by the end, there were eight yellows recorded.
In the twenty-first minute, Higuain missed a clear, goal-scoring opportunity - which adds further ammunition to his “clutch” critique. Higuain has now missed three good chances in three straight tournament finals.
Then the long slog to the penalty shootout. Argentina looked the better team the whole way through, and if it were not for some desperate defending and brilliant goalkeeping by La Roja, the game would have ended in extra time.
In the shootout, Romero saved Vidal’s first penalty and it seemed the script was written: Argentina at long last - but then Messi’s kick happens. Messi skies it over the bar and everything changes. Chile wins.
Messi wears the weight of Argentina on his shoulders. A nation that does not treat him with respect often. After the game, Messi explicitly stated that he doesn’t expect to don the national team jersey again after failing to lift a trophy in four tries. Messi looked paralyzed after his miss; his body language and tears only turned into a more painful experience. The scene, however, did not suggest a man distraught solely because his team let a golden opportunity pass. This was a man terrified of what would be said about him, expected of him - and according to most recent reports, he is apparently done.
It is yet to be seen whether Messi will actually quit the national team; I assume we will see him suited up in 2018, however the decision is not surprising. Messi, a perennial star, is constantly criticized by his country, his people, and ex-players. He understands and speaks out against the corruption and “amateur” nature of the Argentinian Football Association, and he exhausts himself for his country. There is very little gratitude, very little appreciation and Messi no longer wants to bear the burden.