Star striker Lionel Messi’s debut for Argentina lasted less than two minutes as he was sent off, shortly after coming on as a substitute against Hungary in August 2005. Since then, however, his career in national colours has been more unpleasant than festive for Messi as he completes 10 years for his country this August.
It was a hot night in Budapest when then trainer, Jose Pekerman, sent on Messi to replace Lisandro Lopez. However, a clash with Hungarian defender Vilmoz Vanczcak saw referee Markus Mark show Messi the red card, spoiling the future prodigy’s debut, reports Xinhua.
Ten years on, Messi has not been able to replicate the success of a career in the country’s youth teams, where he won the U-20 World Cup in Spain in 2005 and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, with the U-23 squad.
His first appearance outside of friendlies came in a 2006 World Cup qualifier against Paraguay, and featured throughout the qualifiers.
In 2006 World Cup in Germany, he appeared in three matches and scored one goal. However, he was enraged when Pekerman didn’t play him during the quarter-final against Germany, which Argentina lost on penalties.
Messi truly began to shine for his country under the management of Alfio Basilo, particularly in the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela. He scored two goals during the tournament before Argentina fell to Brazil 0-3 in the final.
Growing to become the uncontested leader of the team, Messi entered the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, under the tutelage of legend Diego Maradona.
Messi played all five games his country had in the tournament but disappointment reigned again as he failed to score even once and the team was eliminated once more against Germany in the quarter-finals, losing 0-4.
Maradona soon left his post and another of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup winner, Sergio “Checho” Batista took on the reigns. He had won the Beijing Olympics, leading Messi’s team of youngsters, and was seen as a strong choice to help the team win the 2011 Copa America on home ground.
Again, the FC Barcelona ace failed to perform, even in front of his countrymen. He couldn’t score in four games and the team crashed out on penalties against Uruguay in the quarters.
The nomination of Alejandro Sabella to manage the squad led to a new objective, building a team from the ground up around Messi.
This tactic seemed to work in the qualifiers for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, which Argentina sailed through, leading it to be seen as one of the favorites for the tournament.
Messi certainly had his best ever international tournament in Brazil but the team would ultimately lose 0-1 in extra time against their usual boogeymen, Germany, in the final.
The curse would still not be lifted since Messi’s Argentina would again lose out on penalties against Chile in the final of the 2015 Copa America. Messi only managed to score a solitary goal, through a penalty, during the tournament.
Ten years on from slipping on the Argentinean jersey for the first time, Messi has won 103 caps, scored 46 goals and 32 assists. These are strong statistics but, in that same time period, he has won 25 trophies with FC Barcelona.
Beyond the statistics, many believe Messi must win a World Cup to cement his legacy as one of the greatest of all time alongside Pele, Maradona and Zidane. The 2018 edition in Russia may well be his last chance.