Lionel Messi is determined to win his first ever major international tournament with Argentina after leading his nation to the final of the Copa America.
Messi played in a starring role in Tuesday’s 4-0 thrashing of United States, which has set up a final against either Colombia or Chile, who beat Argentina on penalties in last year’s final.
This year’s Copa has already been a memorable tournament for Barcelona star Messi, despite the fact he missed the start of the competition as a result of a back injury.
Messi scored a hat-trick against Panama in the group stage, then found the net again in an easy victory over Venezuela in the quarter-finals.
That drew the 28-year-old – he celebrates his 29th birthday on Friday – level on 54 international goals with Argentina’s record goalscorer Gabriel Batistuta ahead of the semi-final.
Typically, when Messi broke the record it was completely on his own terms.
The record-breaking goal
When Messi was brought down by Chris Wondolowski around 25 yards from goal the score was already 1-0 to Argentina, Messi setting up Ezequiel Lavezzi for the opening goal of the game.
There was no question over who was going to take the set-piece, even though it was on the left side of the box, perhaps favouring a right-footed taker.
Messi stepped up and goalkeeper Brad Guzan took a step to his right, perhaps anticipating a curling effort over the wall aimed at the unguarded portion of the net, but Messi had outfoxed him.
Instead the viciously hit strike was whipped into Guzan’s left-hand top corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance, the ball nestling off the inside netting to provide a picture-perfect moment.
Typically, for such a modest man, Messi took the chance to dedicate the goal – and his new record – to his team-mates when he spoke to the press after a 4-0 win was rounded off by a brace scored by Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain.
“I am happy to have surpassed Batistuta’s record and I want to thank my team-mates, it’s theirs as well,” said Messi, while coach Gerardo Martino also hailed the impact of his star man and captain.
“It is great that the best player in the world is the leading scorer of the Argentina national team,” Martino said. “But knowing how he is, he is happier about the team.”
All that remains is for Messi to make sure that Argentina go one step further than last year.
Argentina go into the Copa America final as heavy favourites, despite the fact there has been a long 23-year wait to endure since their last major international tournament victory.
Messi and Co will also have to put the memory of last year’s final to the back of their minds, with Messi the only Argentina player to score in a 4-1 shoot-out loss to Chile following a 0-0 draw.
Higuain missed when he stepped up and after Claudio Bravo saved Ever Banega’s spot-kick, Alexis Sanchez stepped up to convert a Panenka-style effort and give his side a famous win.
Messi also has a chance to claim the top goalscorer prize at this year’s Copa America – he has hit five goals already despite the injury-affected start to the tournament he experienced.
The Copa America final takes place on Sunday at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and it promises to be an unmissable match.