Lionel Messi finds his salvation at Copa America

Argentina’s years of stuttering from one final failure to another were finally eradicated after an edgy 1-0 win over nemesis Brazil at the Maracana Stadium. And as the veil of expectation finally lifted, an exultant Lionel Messi was flooded with emotions hitherto unknown.

“I was close many times. I knew it would happen eventually. I am grateful to god for giving me this moment, in Brazil against Brazil. I think he was saving this moment for me,” Messi said after the triumph.   -  AP

If his destiny be strange, it is also sublime.

And like the mythical Captain Nemo of Jules Vernes’s universe, Lionel Messi’s destiny has played strange tricks with him as his most cherished goal is also one that has so often sailed close past him.

For Messi — the winner of many — the years have been troubled by his own inability to evoke magic on the global stage of international football. His repute has been nonchalantly constructed over multitudinous personal and professional records for his club side Barcelona in his adoptive home of Spain. But in the colour of the Albiceleste, the diviner had offered no divine intervention as Argentina stuttered from one final failure to another. Messi’s count of three final defeats in Copa America and the 2014 World Cup had evermore cast doubts about his ability to inspire or shine in a hastily assembled setup that most national teams — almost an afterthought in the days of super clubs — are today.

But those years of aberration were finally eradicated after an edgy 1-0 win over nemesis Brazil at the Maracana Stadium, the ground of the 2014 grief. Eternally playing under the shadow of the ubiquitous Diego Maradona, who willed Argentina to the 1986 world title, Messi had his salvation, but El Diego — the hero — was not there to see his successor eventually crowned.

But the veil of expectation was finally lifted, and an exultant Messi was flooded with emotions hitherto unknown. “I was close many times. I knew it would happen eventually. I am grateful to god for giving me this moment, in Brazil against Brazil. I think he was saving this moment for me,” he said after the triumph.

“I still don’t think we are aware of what we have done, beyond becoming champions. This is a game for the history books. It’s crazy. I can’t explain how happy I feel. I’ve been sad many times [with Argentina after tournaments], but I knew it would happen and there’s no better moment. This team deserved it.”

And his team, who had shared his disappointments and had been goaded by his deep-seated desire to atone for the near misses, had played for their captain. They were his ideal foil – bleeding, toiling – doing superhuman deeds like goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez — the semifinal penalty shoot-out hero — who had been a bit-part player for Arsenal for decades.

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Messi’s 2008 Olympic gold medal-winning comrade and now Barcelona teammate Sergio Aguero encapsulated this Argentine team’s wholeness and underlying idolatry for its talisman. “Leo was very excited; he was the one who needed it the most. He had already won many titles, but he knew that a title with the national team would give him that extra joy to be more calm and relaxed. He deserved it. He is very happy, and we realise that his happiness is our happiness,” Aguero said. “It is a different, incredible happiness.”

In the land of jogo bonito (the beautiful game), samba and magical realism, this final was not an extension of aesthetic joy. Messi was not in his element, policed heavily and entrapped by expectations, as others battled to gain a foothold in a contest of attrition. But much like Maradona of ’86, he drew in opposition men like bait to an ever-curious fish, opening channels for his less-adroit mates to swim. A gulf of space behind the Selecao defence was duly explored as Angel Di Maria chugged in to score the game winner from a Rodrigo De Paul long pass in the 22nd minute. A deflated Brazil had its sailing master Neymar running sorties, but Messi’s mermen were not to be beached again.

All hands on deck, they held on for glory at the 10-team intra-continental event and Messi – the desperate man – at last had won the love of his team and country. He is sublime.

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