Lionel Messi is perhaps the greatest footballer to ever step on the football pitch. He has a trophy cabinet that most others would literally kill or die for, but nevertheless the Argentine magician has never had the honour of lifting an international trophy for La Albiceleste in his playing career until now.
Despite this, he has lit up numerous international tournaments ever since making his debut for the Argentina national team, including playing at five Copas America across his glittering career (which includes three second place finishes at the 2007, 2015 and 2016 editions).
FootTheBall takes a look at the iconic moments that La Pulga has been involved in at the South American Championships including spectacular goals and breathtaking displays of the little genius ahead of his 2021 Copa America campaign.
1) Goal Vs. Mexico (2007 Copa America Semi-Final)
This tournament saw Argentina reaching the final for the second consecutive time after the 2004 tournament, but agonisingly the Argentine contingent missed the mark by just a whisker as they were defeated by Brazil in the final once again.
This tournament saw Messi announcing himself on the international stage by scoring what was perhaps the best goal of the entire tournament in the semi-final with North American side Mexico.
Messi goal against Mexico in 2007, Copa America. pic.twitter.com/wU3MHdYenV
— zeiad (@ftwaterr) October 10, 2017
Messi scooped the ball in the air and it ended up in the back of the net, beating the entire Mexican defence line and the goalkeeper, who could only watch as Argentina made its way, rather deservingly, into the final.
2) Performance Vs. Paraguay (2015 Copa America Semi-Final)
Coming into this match, Messi had been rather lackadaisical for Argentina at the 2015 Copa America – scoring only a single goal, and that too from the penalty spot. But everything changed with this authoritative performance by the Argentine wizard to book a berth in the final of the tournament.
Argentina scored six goals to bulldoze over hapless Paraguay who could only watch as La Abiceleste ripped their defence apart. Messi was one of the chief architects of Argentina’s moves throughout the match, helping in creating half of the goals of his team and being named the best player of the match for his excellent display.
3) Hat-Trick Vs. Panama (Copa America Centenario Group Stage)
At the centennial tournament – aimed at celebrating 100 years of the Copa America – Messi didn’t feature in the opening match for Argentina due to injury issues and coming into the second group stage match, was on the bench for La Albiceleste.
However, in the second half he came off the bench to score a spectacular hat-trick for Argentina and put the result of the match beyond any doubt. And even after scoring a hat-trick off the bench, La Pulga wasn’t satisfied with his contribution, as he provided the assist for Aguero’s goal at the very end of the match.
4) Performance Vs. Venezuela (Copa America Centenario Quarter-Final)
Messi continued his brilliant run of form in the knockout stage of the tournament as he delivered yet another mesmerising performance where he scored one and set up two other goals as Argentina cruised into the semi-finals of the centennial tournament.
As the match began, Messi delivered a long ball into the penalty area that was met perfectly by Gonzalo Higuain to open the scoring. Later on, in the second half Messi himself got on the scoresheet on the hour mark as Argentina tightened its hold on a semi-final place.
Salomon Rondon pulled one back for La Vino Tinto, before the six-time Ballon d’Or winner set up Erik Lamela in the 71st minute to restore Argentina’s three goal lead and send them into the semi-final.
5) Performance Vs. USA (Copa America Centenario Semi-Final)
La Albiceleste came up against the hosts of the tournament, but once again Argentina proved to be more than a match for the Americans. Messi was, as usual, at his scintillating best as he scored from a sumptuous free-kick besides setting up Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain to send Argentina to its third successive final appearance at an international tournament since 2014.
They lost out to Chile yet again in the final, and in the aftermath Messi briefly retired from international football, but this tournament remains till date one of his best showings on the international stage for Argentina.