sports : Lionel Messi Is Not Finished Yet

Wednesday 10 July 2024 08:46 AM

Nafeza 2 world - The Lionel Messi faithful, decked out in his No. 10—young, old, a true global cohort, some hailing from Argentina, others adopting Messi’s home country as their own, from a footballing perspective at least—got what they came for at MetLife Stadium, outside New York City, on Tuesday night.

In the 51st minute of Argentina’s convincing 2-0 victory over Canada in a Copa América semifinal, Messi got his magic left foot to a shot attempted by a teammate, Enzo Fernandez, deflecting it into the net to give Argentina its second goal of the evening—and Messi the 109th of his international career, moving him past Iran’s Ali Daei for second on the all-time list. Only Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 130, tops him.

The messianic chants from the crowd of more than 80,000 at an overheated MetLife—“Messi! Messi! Messi!”—soon followed.

Canada was the surprise underdog opponent, looking to pull off a monumental upset after an already expectation-defying run in the tournament. The Canadian border sits less than 300 miles north of MetLife; Buenos Aires sits some 5,300 miles to the south. An American, Jesse Marsch, coaches the Canadian team.

No matter. Fans of Argentina outnumbered those wearing Canadian red by a healthy margin. It was a home game, far from home, for the defending World Cup champion.

Forgive anyone whose mind began to wander. A little more than two years from now, MetLife Stadium will host the 2026 World Cup Final. Messi teased his legions by scoring a goal here: Could he return to clinch a second straight World Cup and cement his already incredible legacy in some sort of unbreakable limestone? Through his Major League Soccer signing and stellar play with Inter Miami, he’s already elevated soccer in the United States beyond prior imagination.

He’ll be 39 at the next World Cup, but still looks quite spry. Why wouldn’t he just finish the deal?

But first, there’s the non-trivial matter of winning another international championship. Argentina won the last Copa América, in 2021 in Brazil, its first title in that tournament in 28 years. On Sunday, in Miami, Argentina will face the winner of Wednesday’s second semifinal, between Uruguay and Colombia, to try to complete the Copa repeat.

Messi missed a few scoring chances in the first half, but Argentina still took the lead. Argentina’s Rodrigo De Paul was given too much room to operate in front of midfield: he chipped a beautiful ball to Julián Álvarez, who finished to give Argentina a 1-0 advantage it would take into the half. Canada could have made things interesting near the end, but Tani Oluwaseyi sent a header wide in the 89th minute.

Canada’s disappointing loss didn’t stop Marsch, the American whom Canada hired in mid-May as national team coach, from going right to his players and hugging them, one by one, after the final whistle. He’s known for stressing interpersonal joy among his teams and has brought that philosophy up north. The U.S. failed to make it out of the group stage at this home Copa América, sparking another round of speculation about the fitness of coach Gregg Berhalter for his job. U.S. Soccer passed over Marsch for its national team opening last year.

“I took this job seven weeks ago,” Marsch said in his post-game press conference. “I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be right here, right now. So I’m really happy with the team and really happy with our performance.”

“Everyone thought it was going to be a path of roses,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said in Spanish after the match. “That it was going to be very easy. Today Canada showed it is a difficult rival.”

Scaloni waved off any concerns about the New Jersey heat on Tuesday draining his players for the final. “No excuse,” he told reporters. “We have time to rest, we have time to prepare.”

For one more time—at least—the world will get to witness Messi chase another international title on Sunday. And while Messi has expressed some uncertainty about sticking around for the 2026 World Cup, telling reporters after the match that he was enjoying his “last battles,” Scaloni stressed that the No. 10 has a lifetime membership with Argentina, no matter what.

“We will never close the door on Messi,” said Scaloni. “He can be with us whenever he wants, even after he retires. If I go somewhere else, I’ll take him with me if he wants.”

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