CONCEPCION: Lionel Messi is a step closer to finally breaking through with Argentina. 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 semifinals on Tuesday, setting up a final against host Chile on Saturday.
Messi didn’t score but helped set up five goals, including a spectacular run past several defenders from near midfield. 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 through a translator.
Argentina hasn’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 quarterfinals at home by Uruguay.
Victory on Saturday would give Argentina its 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 always prompted a lot of criticism against him. Many Argentines complain that with the national team he has never played as well as he does with Barcelona.
“I really want to win something with the national team,” said Messi, a four-time world player of the year.
Although Messi helped Argentina’s Under-23s win the Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing, his first major tournament was the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where the team fell in the quarterfinals. 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 1-0 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 quarterfinal victory over Colombia, and was even better in Tuesday’s semifinal, although he didn’t score. His only goal came off a penalty kick in the opener.
“The scoring chances that he creates almost count as a goal,” Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said.
“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.”
Messi said he may be saving his goals for the final.
“Hopefully it will happen,” he said.
“It’s important that we reached our first goal, which was to reach the final.”