Lionel Messi’s name has been on the covers of the American sports press in recent months. The Argentine genius did not need time to adapt to the United States. He instantly became the main star of the local championship and already led his new team to the first trophy in history.
Local football fans, however, do not have the most pleasant associations with the name Leo. The fact is that seven years ago it was the Argentine striker who stopped the American team on the path to a historic achievement, putting on a great show in the semifinals of the Copa América.
Messi wonderfully put Americans who believed in themselves in their place.
Winning the 2016 Copa América was a fundamental objective for Messi. As leader of the Argentine national team, the footballer tried to win the continental trophy for a decade, each time stopping one step away from success. The defeat that the team suffered in the previous tournament was especially hard and offensive for Leo. In 2015, the Argentines, being runners-up in the world, sensationally lost to the Chilean team. The blue and whites failed to score a single goal in the final and then had an ugly penalty shootout: 0:0, 1:4.
The local confederation decided to organize the next Cup outside the usual schedule, to mark the centenary of the founding of CONMEBOL. The venue for the South American anniversary championship was also chosen exceptionally: the United States of America became its host country.
Argentina, whose composition had changed slightly after the last tournament, once again started as favorites. The team had the opportunity to take revenge on last year’s rival already on matchday 1 of the group stage: the blue and white defeated the Chileans 2-1. In the remaining two matches, the team won convincing victories, without conceding a single goal, and then made it to the playoffs.
Photo source: Getty Images
In the quarterfinals, Argentina defeated Venezuela without major difficulties and walked with confidence towards the trophy. It seemed that the first serious challenge awaited the team in the next stage. The blue and white rival was the Americans, whose team was, without exaggeration, the main discovery of the tournament: the hosts took first place in their quartet and then beat Ecuador.
The magic of Messi
The hopes of American fans, however, were not fulfilled. The Argentines instantly dispelled the illusions of the local fans by putting on a real show at the NRG Stadium in Houston, the main star of which, of course, was Messi.
The nominal and real guests managed to open the scoring already in the third minute of the match. During a corner kick, Leo, after receiving the ball outside the goalkeeper’s area, made an incredibly calculated pass that cut through almost the entire American defense. All Lavezzi had to do was competently accept this “parachute” and pass it past the goalkeeper, and he did it.
The main masterpiece of the match, however, was created by Messi towards the end of the first half. In the 31st minute, the American defender abruptly stopped Leo near the area, giving him an excellent opportunity to score from a set piece. And a few moments later, the ball followed an elegant trajectory to the far corner of the American goal: the goalkeeper had no chance to repel the shot. The beautiful goal of the Argentine made an incredible impression on the stands: some Americans literally stood paralyzed with their mouths open, others were happy for their opponents, forgetting about their personal preferences.
Photo source: Getty Images
The result of the match as a whole was already evident. Argentina crossed the United States like a skating rink: in the first half of the match, the Americans had the ball only 27% of the time, without taking a single shot. In the second half they were unable to turn the game around: the blue and white team doubled their advantage without even allowing their rivals to get close to their goal. Higuaín also scored the fourth and final goal from a pass from Messi, who was later recognized as the best player of the match.
Surprisingly, even on social networks, Americans subsequently spoke not about the failure of their team, but about Leo’s genius, which most were able to see live for the first time. However, Messi still failed to lead his team to the coveted gold that year: in the final, Argentina was again unexpectedly stopped by the Chileans, and it was Messi who made the first mistake in the penalty shootout.