Why Lionel Messi is quitting Argentina’s national team

A distraught Lionel Messi said Argentina's third straight loss in the Copa finals marked the last time he would play with the national team.

Adam Hunger/Reuters
Lionel Messi reacts after missing a shot during the shoot out round against Chile in 2016 Copa America finals.

Lionel Messi has had enough losing with Argentina’s national team.

The 29-year-old Barcelona star said he would probably not be playing for the national selection again after losing to Chile in the Copa America on Sunday night. 

"The first thing that came to my head on the field, and thinking about it in the locker room, was that it’s over: I’m done with the national team,” he told Argentina’s TyC Sports in the locker room after the game.

The 4-2 loss on penalty kicks, following a 0-0 draw, was the fourth disappointment in major international finals for Argentina’s national team.

“We’ve ended up losing in four finals, and three in a row.  It’s really a shame, but it has to be this way.  We did everything we could, but that’s it.” he said.

Messi’s missed penalty was Argentina’s first in the shootout, and came after a save by his team’s goalkeeper. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner and two-time FIFA World Player of the Year sent his kick sailing over the crossbar.

Messi’s retirement from the national team – if it happens – could spark a chain of departures. Several of Argentina’s most important international stars, including Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano, and Lucas Biglia may also retire, according to ESPN. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero reacted to the news of Messi’s decision by suggesting that his teammate had simply spoken “in the heat of the moment because a good opportunity passed us by”.

But a distraught Messi said that his decision was final. “It’s what I feel right now. I’m really sad that this is happening again. I was the one who missed the penalty, which was really important.”

“I think [my retirement] is best for everyone.  For me and for everyone.  There are a lot of people who wanted this, who won’t be satisfied. We aren’t satisfied either.”

If the decision really is final, Messi will leave Argentina’s national team shorthanded in September, when they face off against Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier. 

The national team’s last triumph in the Copa, noted Argentina’s La Nacion, came nearly 23 years ago in Ecuador, with a gem of a 2-1 victory over Mexico. They fell short last year against Chile – losing, again, in a shootout – and in 2014 against Germany, to whom they succumbed 0-1. They were also frustrated by a wider margin in 2007, when Brazil beat them 3-0 in Venezuela.

That meant intense pressure for this year’s team, who had breezed their way to the finals, steamrolling the United States 4-0 in the semi-final match. Last week, Diego Maradona channeled the national zeitgeist when he commented that he believed Argentina would win, before adding that if they didn’t, “better that they don’t come back”.

Messi is the all-time leading scorer in Copa America matches for the national team, having surpassed Gabriel Batutista’s previous mark of 54 goals in the game against the US. He has also won under-20 and under-23 Olympic titles with Argentina.

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