Lionel Messi and Argentina rejoice in their best national team of all time

Follow live coverage of Uruguay vs Colombia in the 2024 Copa America semi-final today

Lionel Messi was overjoyed. Argentina had just beaten Canada and forced their way into another major final. Their team’s relentless form of the past five years was maintained and their belief that they would retain the Copa America title they won four years ago was reinforced.

“This is so beautiful, and it's something we have to appreciate,” Messi said. “I said that to play another final, to play in four consecutive finals… what this group of players is doing is something to be proud of. We have to appreciate it and recognise it.”

There is now little doubt that this group of players, led by Messi, their venerable captain, are the greatest Argentine team of all time.

The reigning Copa champions have lost just twice in 61 matches, a streak that stretches back half a decade. In that time, they have won the 2021 Copa America, the 2022 World Cup and the inaugural Finalissima against European champions Italy in 2023. By beating Canada 2-0 on Tuesday night at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, already confirmed as the venue for the 2026 World Cup final, Argentina moved just 90 minutes away from another major tournament trophy.


MetLife Stadium witnesses Argentina's greatest team ever (Stephen Nadler/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Messi has now led his national team to seven finals. But before lifting the Copa America trophy in 2021, he had suffered nothing but crushing defeats on the biggest stages, which clouded his legacy with Argentina.

The 2014 team that lost to Germany in a World Cup final that went into extra time featured many of the same players who went on to lose the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals. Messi has been a force to be reckoned with in recent years an attempt to honor the teams and players who were considered losers by Argentina's fanatical football culture. Today, Argentina's players are national heroes who have shown an indefatigable hunger for victory.

The stadiums they’ve played in so far in the United States during the three weeks of this tournament have been packed to the rafters with fans dressed in blue and white. Back in Buenos Aires, the country is eager to celebrate another title. There’s a belief that this team has luck on their side, unlike the teams that faltered in their biggest moments of 2021.

“We've done this before and it wasn't appreciated, maybe because we weren't lucky enough to win,” Messi said. “Those teams also played in the Copa America and the World Cup final. But now we have to enjoy this moment.

GettyImages 2161418023 scaled


Messi was in high spirits on Tuesday night in New Jersey (Elsa/Getty Images)

“The people (of Argentina) deserve to puff out their chests and enjoy this Argentine national team and all its achievements. We are in a different final and we are still fighting.”

Messi scored Argentina's second goal against Canada to take his international tally to 109 — second only to Cristiano Ronaldo's 130 for Portugal. It was actually his first goal of the tournament, a reflection of what has been an unremarkable Copa America for the Argentina talisman.

go deeper

GO DEEPER

Can Messi overtake Ronaldo as the world's top scorer?

He suffered an injury to his adductors (groin) during Argentina's second group stage match, which forced him to miss one match. However, Argentina continued without himand won their group with ease. That's what makes this Argentine team special. They are deep in almost every position.

A player like Julian Alvarez can be swapped with Serie A's top scorer Lautaro Martinez if necessary. The back line is as solid as any group of defenders in the world, led by Tottenham’s Cristian Romero. They have full-backs with different profiles; Nahuel Molina and Marcos Acuna are sure-footed defenders, while Gonzalo Montiel and Nicolas Tagliafico are man-marking bulldogs.

Argentina's midfield is the team's strength. Rodrigo De Paul, in tears after the final whistle due to the physical sacrifice required in the match against Canada, plays alongside two Premier League No 8s in Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernandez. Both players attack and defend tenaciously, allowing Messi and Angel Di Maria to pick their moments to press and focus on creating chances.

GettyImages 2160772392 scaled


Di Maria will retire after this tournament (Pablo Morano/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Since head coach Lionel Scaloni took over in 2019, Argentina have been defined by their depth and tactical flexibility, while maintaining an identity focused on dominating possession and controlling games from start to finish. Di Maria has publicly stated that he will retire from international football after this Copa America, with the 36-year-old now presented with a unique opportunity to walk away after winning another trophy.

“I don't think I could have dreamed this,” Di Maria said. “I am so grateful to this generation of players because thanks to them I have been able to achieve all this. Thanks to them, my last game with the national team will be a final.

“There have been bad times — sometimes you have to let people walk all over you. But that's how it had to end. With me holding the (World Cup) trophy aloft and playing in another final in this shirt.”

Messi, who turned 37 last month, called this moment in his career, and that of Di Maria and veteran defender Nicolas Otamendi, also 36, “our last battles.” On Tuesday, he stressed that the road to lasting success has been difficult. Argentina is not a team that crushes its opponents. Every match is filled with tension and fear, followed by a roar of joy when Argentina's goals find the opponent's net.

On the other side of the pitch, Argentina have a goalkeeper who is almost unbeatable. Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez gives the reigning world champions an edge that makes them easy to hate. Villainy in sport is a sign of success. But as he grinned broadly in the bowels of MetLife Stadium after the match, Martinez seemed impressed by his team's rise.

“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe this,” he said. “You have to believe in it, but keep your feet on the ground, with the mentality that this is all possible.”

Asked if he thought Argentina was the best team in the tournament, Martinez humbly shook his head. “There are a lot of good teams,” Martinez said. “Look at Brazil (away in the quarterfinals). The pitches (used for this Copa) are fucked up and any team can challenge you. Uruguay looks really good and Colombia haven't lost in almost 30 games. (These two teams meet in the second semifinal on Wednesday night). It's going to be tough.”

go deeper

GO DEEPER

Emiliano Martinez: Hated by opponents, loved by Argentina, endlessly entertaining

Scaloni himself was teetering on the brink of despair, even as Argentina continued to win. He almost walked away from the national team last November, after a historic World Cup qualifying victory over Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. “I have to stop the ball and start thinking — I have a lot of things to think about at this time,” Scaloni said at the time.

After last night's win over Canada, Scaloni looked like a coach who had found his purpose again. He was visibly elated. “We come from a lot of success and that makes everything harder — it costs so much more,” he said. Scaloni dodged any questions about Argentina's impressive run of three consecutive finals wins. “We are focused on winning this last.”

GettyImages 2161419578 scaled


Scaloni is fully recharged (Stephen Nadler/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Scaloni told reporters that Messi's future is up to the player. He and his staff will never close the door on the veteran. Scaloni even stressed that Messi can remain part of the national team for as long as he wants. “I'll take him with me if I go somewhere else,” Scaloni said. “He would be a great help to me, but it's up to him.”

A few steps away, surrounded by hordes of reporters from around the world, Messi remained in the spotlight.

It must be incredibly difficult for him to step away from this. He idolises this group of players and they idolise him in turn. Victory in the Copa America final on Sunday (early Monday UK time) in Miami, where he now plays his club football with MLS side Inter Miami, could be the catalyst that extends Messi’s international career into the 2026 World Cup, co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico. A fourth successive trophy, however, could prompt him to hang up his boots as a hero.

Messi is as happy as ever at the moment, and so is Argentina.

“Argentines are crazy about this national team and crazy about football,” Messi added. “This group (of players) has had that relationship for a long time. We have won important things and these players keep fighting game after game. We don't always play well, but our willingness to fight is spectacular.

“Let's enjoy this moment, but also appreciate what started eight years ago.”

go deeper

GO DEEPER

Argentina 2-0 Canada takeaways: Messi scores, Argentina advance to Copa America final

(Top photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Related Posts

  • Sports
  • July 12, 2024
  • 2 views
  • 7 minutes Read
What previous U.S. Soccer hires tell us about the plan to replace fired USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter

Getty Images After US Soccer's decision was made to fire men's coach Gregg Berhalterthe search for his replacement has already begun. With many names to go through For Sporting Director…

  • Sports
  • July 12, 2024
  • 2 views
  • 7 minutes Read
Euro 2024 final: Three keys as England take on Spain as Lamine Yamal and Jude Bellingham star

Getty Images The UEFA Euro 2024 final takes place this Sunday in Berlin, where Spain will face England in one of the most exciting clashes of recent years. The team…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Missed

Top Benefits of DevOps You Can’t Afford to Ignore

  • July 12, 2024
Top Benefits of DevOps You Can’t Afford to Ignore

Wells Fargo WFC Q2 2024 Earnings

  • July 12, 2024
Wells Fargo WFC Q2 2024 Earnings

Elon Musk's X misleads users and violates online content rules, says EU

  • July 12, 2024
Elon Musk's X misleads users and violates online content rules, says EU

'Sing Sing' Avoids Simplified Stories of Hope: NPR

  • July 12, 2024
'Sing Sing' Avoids Simplified Stories of Hope: NPR

What previous U.S. Soccer hires tell us about the plan to replace fired USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter

  • July 12, 2024

American tourist dies after suddenly falling ill on Mount Etna in Sicily, rescuers say

  • July 12, 2024
American tourist dies after suddenly falling ill on Mount Etna in Sicily, rescuers say

Citigroup (C) Q2 2024 Earnings

  • July 12, 2024
Citigroup (C) Q2 2024 Earnings

Tell me: What's your story of survival in the California wilderness?

  • July 12, 2024
Tell me: What's your story of survival in the California wilderness?

'Hawk tuah', Zynternet and the bro-vote; plus cowboys are having a moment

  • July 12, 2024
'Hawk tuah', Zynternet and the bro-vote; plus cowboys are having a moment

'Relief': Canadian serial killer Jeremy Skibicki found guilty

  • July 12, 2024
'Relief': Canadian serial killer Jeremy Skibicki found guilty

NFL open to private equity team ownership, says Roger Goodell

  • July 12, 2024
NFL open to private equity team ownership, says Roger Goodell