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Lionel Messi’s international retirement and the 2018 World Cup

Lionel Messi’s international retirement and the 2018 World Cup

The Copa America Centenario held in the United States earlier this summer appeared to be the chance for Lionel Messi to at last collect a senior trophy with Argentina.

He started the tournament on the bench due to an injury but then returned with a hat-trick against Panama and his form just improved as the tournament progressed. In the semi-final against the United States, he scored an exquisite free-kick that left Brad Guzan with no chance of getting anywhere near the ball. The match ended in a 4-0 win for La Albiceleste and secured their third successive major final appearance in as many years.

There were the familiar foes in the final. Chile and Argentina had clashed in the 2015 Copa America final after a cagey battle that was only settled after a penalty shootout – the Chileans secured their first major international trophy. Will La Roja claim their second major title in two years or will it finally be the year when Messi broke his international duck? They were the two main questions on everyone’s lip.

The final followed a similar pattern to the one in Chile a year ago. There was intense pressing from Chile in midfield with no Argentine player allowed any time on the ball to conjure anything meaningful. Messi was especially hounded whenever he was on the ball.

The similarities between the two finals became even clearer when Gonzalo Higuain fluffed a relatively easy chance. In fact, a very easy chance considering Higuain broke an over half a century-old Serie A goalscoring record last season, and did so with a splendid strike in the final game of the season. He came close but there was no cigar for him in the Copa America final.

The match ultimately went to the penalties, and Messi who had put his side ahead with the penalty kick of the shootout last year, fluffed his lines this summer. The final ultimately ended the same way it did last year – with Claudio Bravo hoisting the Copa America.

However, one thing was different. Messi was in tears after the final whistle. The man of reserved emotions couldn’t hold his tears back after yet another international disappointment and they came out flooding in the full glare of the unforgiving cameras.

But the biggest shock was to come later. Not long after the final whistle, the news came that Messi has announced his retirement from international football. Shocking. Messi just turned 29 during the Copa America and is clearly still in his prime.

Messi, speaking to media personnel afterwards, said that he just couldn’t take the disappointments any longer and his best efforts to deliver Argentina silverware have come to nought leaving him completely drained. He just couldn’t take it any longer.

Messi’s announcement means that he won’t be competing at the World Cup in Russia in two years’ time.

The lead up to the World Cup is already marred with many issues. From racism, to human rights violations, to widespread hooliganism, there are problems aplenty in Russia.

Perhaps one saving grace for the beleaguered World Cup would have been to see the world’s best players in Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in full glory. And the Russian authorities would be hoping that the action on the pitch would take attention away from the unsavoury happenings off it.

But it looks like the 2018 World Cup just can’t catch a break.

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