Argentina won their first trophy since 1993 on Saturday, and Lionel Messi finally earned silverware with his national team as they beat Brazil 1-0 at the Maracana in the 2021 Copa America final. Angel Di Maria’s first-half goal was enough as Lionel Scaloni’s team ran through the tournament with impressive results with Messi led the way, validating his international career with a long-awaited trophy. Brazil, who struggled with consistency in front of goal for much of the tournament, had a nightmare in attack in a match that just never went their way.
Argentina finished the night with just six shots, putting two on frame, while Brazil had 13 shots but only put two of theirs on goal. The match featured 41 fouls that considerably slowed down the pace, adding to the frustration of the hosts, while Argentina were content with sitting back and defending their lead.
The winning goal came in the 22nd minute from Di Maria, who got free down the right after an error from Brazil right back Renan Lodi. A fine ball from Rodrigo de Paul really should have been settled by the defender, but he took a poor angle on it, and it fell right to Di Maria, who beat Ederson with a ridiculous chip.
Messi was there in 2007, playing his first Copa America, losing to Brazil 3-0 in the final. He was there in 2011, when Argentina hosted the tournament and was bounced in the quarterfinals. Then there was that 2014 World Cup final loss to Germany. And that wasn’t even close to being it. There was the 2015 Copa America heartbreak against Chile in penalty kicks, and a repeat of that nightmare a year later at MetLife Stadium. A poor 2018 World Cup and having no chance at the 2019 Copa America all led to this moment — perhaps Messi’s best chance to win an international trophy for the rest of his storied career.
In earning the cup’s best player award and being top scorer, the twice-retired-from-international-duty superstar was the hero and the leader they needed throughout, with his magical free kicks, his leadership on the pitch and his well-timed passes opening up the space that they needed.
While Argentina have the big name, it’s been years since they’ve had the game. While not many people gave them a legit chance to win it, Messi always believed. If he didn’t, he would have actually quit the national team a long time ago and stopped coming back. And holding on to that little hope of winning a trophy paid off in the most unimaginable way, winning it at the Maracana against their most heated rival.
Through all the downs, on this night, for the first and perhaps only time, Messi is a champion with Argentina.