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Argentina Copa America Odds: Lionel Messi 7/4 to lead country to latest title

"He's a great player but he's not a leader. It's useless trying to make a leader out of a man who goes to the toilet 20 times before a game."

In the wake of Argentina’s round of 16 exit to France in the 2018 World Cup, national icon Diego Maradona denounced Lionel Messi’s leadership ability.

The latest in a series of agonising defeats in his country’s colours – with Messi losing three Copa America finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and also beaten in the 2014 World Cup final – it appeared as though success at international level would evade one of the most gifted players to have ever played the game.

A shy and at times reclusive figure, Messi conspicuously struggled amidst the intense pressure to lead his nation to glory and live up to the legend of the great Diego Maradona – the tigerish streetfighter who sensationally dragged La Albiceleste to the World Cup title in Mexico in the summer of 1986.

Having moved to Barcelona aged 13 and won it all at club level with the Catalan giants, there was a growing feeling following Argentina’s latest disappointment at the 2018 World Cup that Messi would be remembered as a player who was incapable of delivering success for his country.

History would not follow this path, however, as Messi grew into the true leader he was always destined to become for Argentina.

Argentina Copa America Odds

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Mobbed in the Maracana

Following the ill-fated tenure of Jorge Sampaoli as Argentina manager between 2017 and 2018, the national association’s next appointment was crucial in the story of Lionel Messi’s international career.

Having worked under a total of eight managers since making his Argentina debut in 2005, including Diego Maradona himself at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Messi had seemingly never felt truly comfortable within the often chaotic international setup.

This all changed following the controversial arrival of the understated Lionel Scaloni as Argentina manager, a former international teammate of Messi at his first World Cup in Germany in 2006.

Deemed underqualified for the role from the outside, Scaloni’s methodical, personable approach proved to be exactly what was needed to cultivate a positive team environment in which Messi could flourish for his country.

A third-placed finish at the 2019 Copa America in Brazil did little to endear Scaloni to his vociferous doubters, but the former Deportivo and Lazio player needed time to grow into his role as national team coach.

The subsequent Copa America two years later, again taking place in Brazil but this time in the midst of a global pandemic, saw both Scaloni and Messi silence their doubters in glorious fashion.

Making it through to his fourth Copa America final after La Albiceleste edged past Colombia on penalties in the semis, it felt as though the whole footballing world was willing Messi on to finally break his trophy duck with his country.

This would be no easy feat for Scaloni’s charges though, as the final would see Argentina face fierce rivals Brazil in their own backyard of the iconic Maracana.

Messi’s Argentina teammates have since recalled a rousing speech delivered by their talisman in the dressing room on the eve of the 2021 Copa America final, the delivery of which many supporters in his native country did not believe he was capable of.

Spurred on by their captain’s words, and in spite of the odds being stacked against them against Brazil in Rio, there was to be no hard luck story for Argentina this time around.

Angel Di Maria was the matchwinner on the day, with the former Real Madrid star notching the final’s only goal in the 22nd minute.

The events which followed the final whistle underlined how important a moment this was for Messi, with the first thought of his teammates to sprint towards the magician and embrace him together.

Finally Messi would have his crowning moment for Argentina.

Winning his first international honour at the age of 34, thrown aloft in adulation by his teammates, the overwhelming pressure to finally win silverware for his country was lifted.

We had said it in the Copa America, that he had to win it. I was doing it for my country first and then for him.

- Emi Martinez [AFA Estudio, 2023]

Destiny in Doha

Arriving at the Qatar World Cup in 2022 as reigning Copa America winners and an impressive 36 matches unbeaten, Argentina entered the tournament amongst the favourites with Messi and Co. desperate to bring the sport’s biggest prize back to their homeland.

Their World Cup campaign could not have got off to a worse start, however, with Lionel Scaloni’s side falling victim in one of the biggest upsets in the 92-year history of the competition in their opening group match.

Faced with underdogs Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in the world, Argentina inexplicably fell to a 2-1 defeat in the Lusail Stadium to leave their World Cup dreams in serious jeopardy.

The Messi of yesteryear could be easily imagined to have slunk off and exited the stadium as quickly as possible following such an ignominious loss.

Not this Messi though.

Stopping to speak to each and every reporter in the media mixed zone, a defiant Messi had one message to Argentina supporters: “Keep the faith everyone, we won’t let you down.”

Messi was true to his word, with Argentina improving with every passing match with the talismanic number 10 at the forefront.

Edging past Australia 2-1 in the round of 16 to set up a last eight meeting with the Netherlands, Messi and Argentina would engage in a World Cup classic against the Dutch.

Riled by pre-match comments made by Dutch manager Louis van Gaal which called Messi’s workrate into question, Argentina were up for a battle in a match which developed into a fiery encounter later dubbed the ‘Battle of Lusail’.

Attacking Leo - you shouldn't do that to Argentines.

- Alexis Mac Allister [BBC Sport 2023]

After registering a sublime assist for Nahuel Molinia’s opener, Messi doubled Argentina’s advantage in the 73rd minute from the penalty spot to seemingly send Argentina through to the semi-finals in comfortable fashion.

In what now represents an iconic image in a legacy-defining World Cup for the Argentine captain, Messi opted to celebrate this second goal by cupping his ears at the Dutch bench.

Perhaps this gesture was untimely, with a determined Netherlands side somehow managing to send the pulsating tie to extra-time with substitute Wout Weghorst bagging a dramatic brace – the second of which arriving 11 minutes into added time.

Argentina had already proven in Qatar they would not go down without a fight, however, with La Albiceleste prevailing on penalties in a riveting quarter-final tie which would see no less than 15 players cautioned.

This match against the Netherlands brought out a side to Messi previously masked, with the diminutive playmaker snapping into tackles, arguing with the Dutch bench and even insulting Weghorst to TV reporters in the tunnel following the match.

An intense football nation renowned for their passion and combative nature, the Argentina faithful loved this side of their hero, with Messi reported to have found his ‘inner Diego’ and become ‘Maradonised’.

Except this was not Maradona, it was an evolved Messi.

This was a Messi who had grown comfortable in his own skin, a mature Messi whose close bond with this group of ferocious Argentine players saw his Rosario roots rise to the surface.

When he [Messi] becomes your captain, you'd go to war for him if he asked you to.

- Rodrigo De Paul [FIFA.com, 2020]

Argentina’s rollercoaster of a World Cup journey in Qatar took a more straightforward turn at the semi-finals stage as the South Americans sailed past Croatia 3-0, setting up a meeting with Didier Deschamps’ France in the final.

Going in at the half-time break in the World Cup final two goals to the good courtesy of Messi and Di Maria, Argentina had one hand on their third World Cup trophy.

However, in the final billed as the defining moment in the legendary career of Messi, his supposed heir in the form of France’s own superstar Kylian Mbappe came mightily close to ripping up the script.

Bagging twice to send the final to extra-time, Mbappe struck again in extra time to become the first man ever to score a hat-trick in the sport’s biggest match, with Messi also completing a brace as the contest ended 3-3 following 120 minutes.

For just the second time, the World Cup final was to be determined by penalty kicks in yet another test of Messi and his teammates’ mental fortitude.

Electing to step up first, Messi calmly stroked the ball past France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to register his sixth successfully converted penalty of the tournament, but once again it was to be Argentine goalkeeper Emi Martinez who would emerge as his country’s hero.

Characteristically animated on his goal line, Aston Villa keeper Martinez kept out Kingsley Coman’s second penalty for Les Bleus, and after Real Madrid’s Aurelien Tchouameni dragged his effort wide, Gonzalo Montiel was presented with the opportunity to win his country the World Cup from 12 yards.

The full-back duly delivered, sending Lloris the wrong way to seal Argentina’s great triumph.

The great Messi sunk to his knees.

Finally he would raise the trophy he coveted most, an act which saw him essentially achieve everything possible in the sport of football.

How his teammates look at him, the way they look at him, with admiration… it’s very difficult to explain.

- Lionel Scaloni [Universo Valdano, 2023]

Copa America 2024

More to come?

Messi and Argentina have the opportunity to write new history this summer as La Albiceleste prepare to retain their Copa America title in the United States.

Still going strong at 36 years old as he runs amok in the MLS with David Beckham-owned Inter Miami, Messi still appears more than capable of proving a decisive figure in the meeting of South America’s finest football nations.

Still riding high following their exploits at the end of 2022 in Qatar, Scaloni’s Argentina sit top of their qualifying group for the 2026 World Cup with five wins from their opening six matches.

Only Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay have beaten Argentina since their World Cup success, and La Albiceleste look in good fettle heading into the Copa America.

Drawn in a group alongside Peru, Chile and Canada, Argentina will be confident of making safe progression through to the knockout stages, where the intensity of competition will ramp up a few notches.

The three-time World Cup winners will always be mindful of the threat of long-time rivals Brazil, whilst a resurgent Uruguay under Bielsa have already demonstrated they have what it takes to get the better of Argentina on their day.

A Messi-inspired Argentina will take some stopping though, as La Albiceleste bid to become the first team in history to win two consecutive Copa America titles with a World Cup win sandwiched in between.

This achievement would put this Argentina side led by the two Lionels – Messi and Scaloni – in the conversation as one of the best international teams of all time, representing a feat akin to Spain’s success between 2008 and 2012 when they won the Euros twice as well as the World Cup.

History beckons once more for Argentina in the United States, and who better to lead them than the all-conquering Messi?

Copa America 2024

Messi to Finish Top Goalscorer

All odds displayed on this page were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time.

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