Messi finally pays his debt to Argentina with Copa America win

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Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the trophy with teammates after winning the final of Copa America Brazil 2021 between Brazil and Argentina at Maracana Stadium on July 10, 2021 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Argentina has finally made Lionel Messi cry with joy.

After losing four times in finals, early exits in major tournaments and even a decision to retire from the national team, the superstar celebrated a much-awaited title with Argentina in Saturday's 1-0 win against Brazil at the Maracana Stadium.

The title ended Argentina's 28-year drought of major trophies, with Messi as the best player with four goals and five assists. The captain also broke the team's record for international appearances, with 151 matches.

When Uruguayan referee Esteban Ostojich blew the final whistle, Messi knelt down on the pitch and covered his face with his hands.

The next challenge is to win the World Cup in Qatar next year, which would be the first since Maradona took the team to glory in 1986.

Until Saturday, Messi's titles with Argentina were only the U-20 World Cup title in 2005 and a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

His first frustration at the senior-team level started at age 19 in the World Cup quarterfinals elimination against Germany in 2006. One year later, he saw Brazil beat Argentina 3-0 in the Copa America final. 

His next major shot at winning with Argentina came in the 2014 World Cup final against Germany. IMG-20210711-060150-707

The 1-0 defeat at the Maracana Stadium in Rio frustrated the star, who was voted the best player of the tournament, though his form was not as impressive as it was at his club.

Chile would crush Messi's hopes in two Copa America finals, in 2015 and 2016, both on penalties.

After the second defeat to Chile, Messi told journalists the national team was over for him.

"It is not for me. I tried, I think that is it," he said at the time.

But he returned for South American World Cup qualifiers in which Argentina struggled. He took the team to Russia, but the round-of-16 defeat against France came at a turbulent time for the team. 

Messi became more aggressive in the 2019 Copa America, much to the pleasure of Argentinian fans who considered him to be too cold, too European. IMG-20210711-060207-098

Under a coach with little experience, Lionel Scaloni, he was surrounded by young players who got the best of him.

On Saturday Messi kissed the Copa America trophy and lifted it at age 34. The biggest gap in his decorated career is now closed.

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