Lionel Messi’s Argentina has been a great tragedy in recent years. The peak arguably came in 2014. Arguably it was a trough for many. Argentina reached the FIFA World Cup final in Brazil. Only one game stood between them and the ultimate prize. Opponents Germany had other ideas, and they snatched a close 1-0 win to clinch the trophy. Messi claimed the individual award of the Golden Ball at the World Cup, but that was scant consolation in the end.
In the two years after that Argentina reached two more finals. They made the showpiece event of the Copa America and Chile were their opponents both times. Chile won both the times and on a penalty shootout on each occasion. Argentina were so close yet so far to that trophy. They bowed out last summer in the World Cup a the hands of eventual winners France. It seemed as though that would be the final straw for a talented group of players. But one year later, albeit unconvincingly, they go again.
Argentina’s Copa America campaign this time began in the worst possible manner. They faced Colombia in the opening game. Despite having more of the play, they failed to open the scoring. Colombia scored two late goals to hand Argentina a reality check. In the second game, Paraguay were the opponents. They took an early lead and Argentina were staring down the barrel again. Lionel Messi scored a penalty to rescue a point for Argentina from the game. Even more critical was Franco Armani’s save from another penalty which preserved the point for his side.
That point kept their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals alive. They needed a win against Qatar, which they did with a 2-0 scoreline. Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero got the goals to send Argentina through. But the game was far from straightforward. Qatar created numerous openings in the game and threatened to score themselves. Argentina’s defense was not reliable, and there were many gaps open for Qatar to exploit. They were not clinical in the final third as well. Argentina had many chances to kill the game, but they failed to do so until the closing stages.
They will now face Venezuela in the quarter-final. Coach Lionel Scaloni has numerous issues to address before that match. He still does not know his best eleven, and he is bound to tinker before the quarter-final. Martinez did not impress bar the goal, and Paulo Dybala could come into his thoughts to start. Argentina need to improve if they are to challenge for the title.
Like many times before, Argentina fans find themselves in a similar spot. They are not the favorites on paper. The likes of Brazil and Uruguay are a level above them in terms of form and talent. An exit is more likely than winning it in Brazil, but the hope will not die. Messi is one of the primary reasons why. The odds are stacked against him and Argentina, but they will go at it nonetheless.