Wednesday 28 September 2016

Messi one step closer to Copa America glory

Published 02/07/2015 | 02:30

Lionel Messi leaves the Paraguayan defence tackling each other as he skips through during the semi-final victory
Lionel Messi leaves the Paraguayan defence tackling each other as he skips through during the semi-final victory

Lionel Messi is a step closer to finally breaking through with Argentina.

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The Barcelona star heads into the Copa America final with a chance to end his nation's 22-year title drought, and prove that he can replicate his club-level success with the national team.

Messi thrived in leading Argentina to a 6-1 rout of Paraguay in the semi-finals, setting up a final against host Chile on Saturday.

Messi didn't score but helped to set up five goals, including a spectacular run past several defenders from near half-way.

It is Messi's and Argentina's second chance in a year to lift a trophy, and the first since the World Cup final in Brazil.

"We really want to win this one, we are very hopeful," the 28-year-old playmaker said.

Argentina haven't won a significant trophy since the 1993 Copa America, when Messi was aged six. He lost the 2007 final to Brazil in Venezuela, and was eliminated in the 2011 quarter-finals at home by Uruguay.

Victory on Saturday would give Argentina a 15th Copa America title, tying Uruguay as the tournament's most successful team.

Messi has won nearly every title possible with Barcelona but nothing with Argentina's senior squad, which has prompted a lot of criticism against him.

Many Argentinians complain that he has never played as well with the national team as he does with Barcelona.

"I really want to win something with the national team," said Messi, a three-time world player of the year.

Although Messi helped Argentina's U-23s win the Olympic gold medal in 2008, his first major tournament was the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where the team fell in the quarter-finals.

It was the same result at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and the great run in the 2014 World Cup ended with a heartbreaking loss to Germany in the final at Maracana Stadium.

Messi didn't have a good start in this year's Copa America, but improved. He played well in the quarter-final victory over Colombia, and was even better in Tuesday's semi-final, although he didn't score. His only goal in the tournament so far came from a penalty in the opener.

"The scoring chances that he creates almost count as a goal," said Argentina coach Gerardo Martino. "I don't see him worried. On the contrary, I see him happy. He doesn't need to be the team's goalscorer to be happy."

Irish Independent

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