Maybe luck will finally be on Argentina’s side.
Weird and unpredictable stuff happens in soccer all of the time.
Greece phalanxes and counter-attacks their way to a European Championship. Turkey keeps coming back like a bad penny against world superpowers and claws their way to a third place match at a World Cup. Brazil gets figuratively hitched to the back of Germany’s chariot and dragged through the streets of Belo Horizonte in a 7-1 drubbing. Basically, in singular form, a major international tournament is an insoluble puzzle. But in aggregate, patterns begin to reveal themselves.
At the 2015 Copa America, riding considerable momentum after snatching the title of “World’s Best” from Cristiano Ronaldo and helping Barcelona to its kajillionth La Liga title, Lionel Messi and Argentina rolled into the cup final, only to be beaten like a rented mule by Chile. After failing to capitalize on his third major final appearance in the senior team, Messi allegedly refused the competition’s MVP award for reasons completely understandable.
See, the summer before at the 2014 World Cup, Argentina had reached the final only to have the cup snatched from their fingers by an impossibly clean Mario Gotze finish at the near post in extra time.
Lionel Messi being awarded the Golden Ball – when it was arguable that he wasn’t the tournament’s best player – felt like a consolation in more ways than one. After a disappointing club campaign and coming in second in Ballon D’Or voting that year, you can imagine the groundswell of criticism for the then-26-year-old; the unwarranted and frequent accusations of decline.
It wasn’t all his fault though. Argentina’s troubles stretch back to before Messi assumed the captaincy five years ago. As a matter of fact, it goes back to before Messi laced up his boots for Argentina’s U-17s – La Seleccion haven’t won a major international tournament since 1993. Of course, you’d expect the buck to stop with the greatest Argentine footballer since Diego Maradona, but, as soccer is a team sport, it takes a team to win. And as a team, Argentina seems set on finding ways to underachieve. Particularly the years between 2008 and 2010 when Maradona himself was driving, and steering the team over the shoulder and into the guard rails.
So what will it be at the Copa America Centario? Redemption or more painful, agonizing failure? Messi’s coming off of his fifth (fifth!) Ballon D’Or win and another dazzling club campaign, but after getting leveled in a tune-up match against Honduras and picking up a back injury – while the Spanish government is trying to Wesley Snipes him – things already seem to be heading in the direction that history dictates they’ll be going. Of course, they’re still favorites, but they’re always favorites.
Who knows though? Maybe one more shot and the mold will crack. Argentina’s due for one of those weird and unpredictable things. Maybe this is the one.