Lionel Messi’s quest to win his first international trophy lives on. Argentina defeated Qatar 2-0 thanks to goals from Sergio Aguero and Lautaro Martinez to advance to the quarterfinals of this summer’s Copa America. After losing to Colombia in their opening game followed by a disappointing draw with Paraguay, the Qatar match was a must win if they were to avoid elimination.
Next up for Argentina is Venezuela, a tough, young side who they lost to 3-1 back in March. If Argentina manage to avenge that defeat, they will then have to battle it out with arch rivals and hosts Brazil for a spot in the final. The Albiceleste have not won a major trophy since 1993 and are under immense pressure to finally end that drought this summer. They can count on support along the way from an extremely passionate fan base that expects excellence every time their side steps on the field and views anything other than victory as a total failure.
Manager Lionel Scaloni is well aware of the pressure on him and his side but feels it may do them more harm than good.
“Sometimes, these guys go out to play a soccer game and they seem to go out and play a war. With the pressure on them sometimes it is difficult to play. The message should be that while playing in the Copa America we are all on the same side.”
There is not a soul on this Argentina team who will be feeling more of that pressure than Lionel Messi.
Messi turned 32 on June 24th; his time is running out with Argentina. Throughout his illustrious career, Messi’s failure to win on the international stage has been the chief criticism against him. To some, he is the greatest player of all time. To most Argentinians however, he isn’t even the greatest player who has represented their country. That title belongs to Diego Maradona, a man revered as a godlike figure for leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986 and until Messi replicates that sort of success, that comparison will always loom large over him.
This pressure that their talisman is under to finally win has become something of an added motivation for the rest of the Argentina team. Long-time teammate and friend Sergio Aguero explained that this tournament is more about helping Messi win than any individual aspirations one might have.
“I’m more excited about winning for Leo than for myself because he has played for so long and he has suffered so much.”
Whether or not the desire to see Messi lift a trophy will be enough to lead a disjointed Argentina to continental triumph will be decided in the coming weeks with the eyes of a nation staring down at them.