EAST RUTHERFORD: Lionel Messi sensationally announced his retirement from international football here Sunday after Argentina crashed to an upset defeat against Chile in the final of the Copa America.
The heartbroken Barcelona superstar was distraught after missing a spot-kick as Chile snatched victory in a penalty shoot-out Messis fourth straight defeat in a major final while representing Argentina.
For me the national team is over, the crestfallen 29-year-old told reporters.
I’ve done all I can, Ive been in four finals and it hurts not to be a champion. Its a hard moment for me and the team, and its difficult to say, but its over with the Argentina team.
Messis dramatic announcement followed Argentinas third loss in a major final since 2014.
They were beaten 1-0 by Germany in the final of the World Cup in 2014 and lost on penalties, also to Chile, in the final of the 2015 Copa America.
Messi also tasted defeat with Argentina in the final of the 2007 Copa America.
Despite a glittering career that has seen him be named FIFA World Player of the Year on no fewer than five occasions, Messi has often faced baffling criticism from Argentina fans.
Although universally regarded as one of the greatest footballers ever, he has regularly been criticised for his failure to land a major title in the colours of Argentina.
Messis failure to match the achievements in the Argentina jersey of Diego Maradona, who single-handedly carried the team to victory in the 1986 World Cup, has often been held against him.
Maradona himself has often taken potshots at Messi, criticising him on the eve of the tournament for a perceived lack of personality.
Hes a really good person, but he has no personality, Maradona said in Paris shortly before the start of Euro 2016.
He lacks the character to be a leader.
Messis bombshell decision comes after a gruelling season which was disrupted by injury last year.
He recovered to help Barcelona win the Spanish title once more and was relishing the prospect of leading Argentina to glory in the Copa America Centenario.
His commitment to playing for Argentina was reflected in his decision to fly from Spain to Argentina for a low-key friendly against Honduras shortly before the tournament, where he suffered a back injury.
He then returned to Spain to give evidence at his trial for tax fraud before jetting off to the United States to join up with his Argentina team-mates.
Although he was injured for his teams opening group game against Chile, he came on as a substitute in a 5-0 hammering of Panama to score a hat-trick in 19 minutes.
He then equalled Argentinas international goalscoring record of 54, held by Gabriel Batistuta, in the quarter-finals before setting a new mark with his 55th international goal in the semi-final win over the United States.
Messi’s retirement from Argentina could hurt his legacy
New York: Lionel Messi’s surprising decision to stop playing for Argentina could damage his legacy with the national team and fans back home.
If Messi sticks to his announcement, made in the heat of the moment shortly after Argentina’s penalty shootout loss to Chile in Sunday’s Copa America final, Argentina will be left dwelling on the fact that it was not able to win any significant title despite having one of the best players of all time.
Many fans back home didn’t like the fact that he thrived in his adopted country Spain but failed to consistently produce brilliant performances with the national team.
Some national team fans resorted to social media, calling their biggest star a quitter and saying that the 29-year-old would still be young enough to at least try to help Argentina win the coveted title in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Messi moved to Barcelona in 2001 when he was 13 and never seemed to be as welcome at home as he was in Spain with the club that made him the star he is today. His connection with Barcelona grew stronger over the years and some fans back in Argentina were bothered by it, especially when success continued to elude the national team.
“I think this is best for everyone. First of all for me, and then for everyone,” Messi told the Argentine network TyC Sports not along after missing a penalty kick in the shootout. “I think there’s lot of people who want this, who obviously are not satisfied, as we are not satisfied reaching a final and not winning it.”
Messi was clear about his intentions but a change of heart cannot be ruled out considering he was speaking after just falling short of the title in heartbreaking fashion. “It’s been four finals, it’s not meant for me,” Messi said.
Messages sent to Messi’s agents seeking further comments on Monday were not immediately answered.
If Messi doesn’t reconsider the decision and indeed ends his international career without a major title , he will fall further behind former great Diego Maradona in the always lively discussion in Argentina about who was the best player of all time, Maradona or Messi.
Some of Maradona’s best moments came while wearing the jersey of Argentina, which he led to the World Cup title in 1986 and to a runner-up finish in 1990.
Messi played in three World Cups, taking the team to the final in 2014 but playing a lackluster game in the loss to Germany, when he missed an easy scoring chance early in the second half that could have changed the outcome.
Messi’s only triumphs with Argentina came at the 2005 Youth Championship, a tournament played with under-20 squads, and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, when he helped the team win the gold medal. He lost three Copa America finals (2007, 2015 and 2016) and was on the team eliminated at home in the 2011 quarterfinals of the South American competition.
“That’s it, I’ve already tried enough,’ he told TyC. “It pains me more than anyone not being able to be a champion with Argentina, but that’s the way it is. It wasn’t meant to be.”
With Barcelona, it has been nothing but success for Messi, who led the Spanish giants to four Champions League titles and three Club World Cup trophies. He also won eight Spanish league titles, scoring 453 competitive goals in 531 games, including a league-record 312.
He is Argentina’s career leading scorer with 55 goals in 113 international appearances.
Argentina’s next competitive match is a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay in September, but now it’s uncertain what kind of team it will have then, as other players from Messi’s generation may also decide to leave the national team.
Messi, meanwhile, is expected to return to preseason with Barcelona in Spain, where it should be another successful season for him at the club level.
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