Magical Messi served Chile pain again as Martinez misfires

By Sports Desk June 14, 2021

It was a modest record for a player as magnificent as Lionel Messi: three games, two final defeats, one red card, no goals.

But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

 

By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

Related items

  • Ancelotti realistic about Real Madrid's Champions League chances Ancelotti realistic about Real Madrid's Champions League chances

    Carlo Ancelotti is not getting carried away over Real Madrid's Champions League prospects despite Tuesday's 2-0 win at home to Inter sealing top spot in Group D.

    Madrid just needed to avoid a defeat to go through to the knockout phase as group winners, but they ultimately battled to a commendable victory over the Italian champions.

    Toni Kroos netted a glorious first-half opener, before a similarly satisfying Marco Asensio curler wrapped up the win 11 minutes from time.

    As such, Madrid will – theoretically – get a kinder draw than runners-up Inter in the last 16, potentially setting them up nicely to reach the quarter-finals.

    Los Blancos went as far as the last four in 2020-21 following back-to-back round-of-16 eliminations, though Ancelotti is not making any sweeping statements regarding their chances of going deeper into the competition this time around.

    He told reporters: "We have the quality to win LaLiga and the quality to compete in the Champions League.

    "There are no teams with the quality [guaranteed] to win the Champions League, just to compete.

    "There are more intense teams, others with more quality. We are not an intense team in the defensive aspect, but we have a lot of quality, a lot of experience and a lot of commitment."

    Luka Modric made his 100th Champions League appearance on Tuesday, becoming only the ninth player to reach that landmark while at Madrid. Eight of those games came during his time at Tottenham.

    Modric turned in a typically controlling display and completed the full 90 minutes, which was somewhat surprising given the important nature of Sunday's clash with Atletico Madrid.

    There had been calls prior to the weekend win over Real Sociedad for Ancelotti to rotate his midfield more, yet Modric is heading into the derby having played 90 minutes both against La Real and Inter.

    The Croatian is not concerned, however.

    "I feel very good," the 36-year-old told Movistar. "I think you don't have to look at the years, you have to look at what you do on the field. The years are less and less noticeable because players' careers are prolonged.

    "I feel very good, and I feel like I am younger than 30!"

  • Atletico always find new ways to excite me after 10 years – Simeone savours do-or-die victory Atletico always find new ways to excite me after 10 years – Simeone savours do-or-die victory

    Diego Simeone said Atletico Madrid always find new ways to excite him as the Colchoneros boss savoured the team's dramatic progress to the Champions League last 16.

    Atletico prevailed in Tuesday's do-or-die battle away to Porto on matchday six, defeating the Portuguese hosts 3-1 to book their spot in the knockout phase.

    Simeone's Atletico required a victory and hoped Milan failed to beat Liverpool elsewhere in Group B, and the stars aligned for the stuttering LaLiga champions.

    Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Rodrigo de Paul scored to earn Atletico victory in a match that saw three players sent off – Yannick Carrasco received his marching orders, while Porto duo Wendell and Marchesin were also dismissed amid chaotic scenes as three goals were scored after the 90th minute.

    Simeone, who has guided Atletico to two LaLiga titles and a pair of Champions League runners-up appearances during his decade-long tenure in the Spanish capital, could not contain his emotions.

    "I've been at this club for 10 years and the team always ends up exciting me in new ways," Atletico head coach Simeone said.

    "The difficulties, the fact that we didn't have three of our four centre-backs, but there are players with few minutes who are still so important to us. Today it was [Sime] Vrsaljko’s turn, we knew he could do his job. [Geoffrey] Kondogbia is the same.

    "The whole team got involved in the game, gave everything, put their hearts into it. We have a goalkeeper who delivered in moments of difficulty. In the second half, if they had scored from that chance, they win.

    "Today was a beautiful day, a great day. The boys from the youth team made it through and I wanted to as well. They gave us the ambition of wanting to make it through. We are going to remember this as one of the classic Champions League matches of our lifetime, against a great team in a tough game. We're similar.

    "The game had everything – sendings off, chances. Football, how beautiful."

    Porto against Atletico was the first ever Champions League game to see as many as three goals scored in the 90th minute (including stoppage time), while the fixture was the first in the premier club competition to have as many as three red cards since 2013.

    Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak said: "It's been an incredible night. I'm very happy with the victory, for the team and the fans. I'm sure many people didn't believe in us but it's in matches like these where we show what a team we really are and that we are such a strong group.

    "You have to keep your head up when you lose and, when things don't go your way, you have to keep playing as if your life depends on it. We can't be at our best throughout the season but you have to keep on going.

    "There's no limit to what we can do and when we have to dig our heels in we do it. I wish we didn't have to suffer so much but this is football: it's not always easy."

  • Inter have a lot of regrets after Madrid defeat, bemoans Inzaghi Inter have a lot of regrets after Madrid defeat, bemoans Inzaghi

    Simone Inzaghi said Inter were made to regret failing to capitalise on a positive first-half display in their Champions League defeat against Real Madrid.

    Inter were denied top spot in Group D after going down 2-0 to Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.

    Though already guaranteed a place in the knockout phase, goals from Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio ensured Inter will be drawn to play a group winner in the last 16.

    Inter were on top of large periods of the first half; with 13 shots, 14 open-play crosses and 54.9 per cent of the possession.

    But for all their positive play, visiting Inter could only register a single shot on target and their task was made more difficult after the break following Nicolo Barella's dismissal.

    Despite a 10th defeat in 12 European matches against Spanish opposition, Inzaghi insisted the experience will stand his side in good stead heading into the knockout stages.

    Inter have lost each of their last four European meetings with Madrid, and have now lost each of their last seven away games against the LaLiga giants.

    "Clearly, we wanted to get a different result, but it will be very useful for our future," the head coach said. 

    "There are a lot of regrets with the first half because, in my opinion, we played very well and with personality. 

    "Unfortunately, we created a lot of situations where the numbers were in our favour, but we went into the interval a goal down.

    "It was an open match; we were close to scoring the equaliser after the break. When it became 10 against 11, it was more difficult.

    "We are growing; I can say very little to my players in terms of performance. 

    "We played well in both games against Real Madrid, but lost them both. Obviously, we have to do something more."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.