BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Nearly at the age of 34, Lionel Messi may just have two more shots at hitting an elusive target: winning a first title with Argentina.
Next year’s World Cup in Qatar could be his last, while the Copa America that starts Sunday in Brazil might be his best chance of finally lifting an international trophy.
“It is a special competition with the national team,” Messi said recently. “We want it very much.”
Argentina hasn’t won a major title since the 1993 Copa America. Messi has played in six editions of the tournament, losing three finals.
Argentina’s will start its campaign in Rio de Janeiro on Monday against Chile, the team that snatched two Copa America titles away from Messi on penalties.
Messi also has bad memories from Brazil, which became the emergency host of the Copa after Argentina and Colombia had to pull out.
Argentina lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in Rio de Janeiro, and Messi was sent off in the third-place match against Chile in the last edition of the 2019 Copa América that Brazil also hosted.
Unlike in some previous tournaments, though, Messi isn’t expected to do everything by himself this time.
“A top player can score a goal, win a match,” said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni. “But to win a championship you need much more than the best player in the world.”
Messi is now one of the oldest players on the team but Scaloni said he has learned to adapt to a younger generation.
“Leo has shown he is well, comfortable, with a new generation that he barely knew,” Scaloni said. “And now he is one of them, he gets along with all. We have managed to make a team in which he can fit.”
The new-look Argentina includes Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martínez and midfielders like Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes that help take some of the burden off Messi’s shoulders.
In fact, while Messi is still effective from the spot, he hasn’t scored from open play for Argentina since the 2-1 win against Nigeria in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup.
Still, Scaloni urged fans to enjoy Messi while they can.
“As happened with Diego (Maradona), when he stopped playing we realized what it was like to have him on the field,” Scaloni said. “So with Leo you should not deprive yourself of (watching him) while he is still here.”
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