SOME RETIRING THOUGHTS Messi says he's stepping away from international career after Argentina loses Copa final to Chile
Chile midfielder Francisco Silva (5) celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick to defeat Argentina in the championship match of the 2016 Copa America Centenario tournament at MetLife Stadium.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
By Michael Lewis
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If he has indeed played his last game with the Argentina national team, the great Lionel Messi will go out as a loser.
Messi and Argentina again failed to grab the brass ring and the gold medal in an international final Sunday night, as they lost to Chile in the Copa American Centenario final.
The Chileans prevailed in a shootout, 4-2, after the two neighboring South American rivals played to a scoreless tie after 120 minutes before a capacity crowd of 82,026 at MetLife Stadium.
Pedro Pablo Hernandez, Charles Aranguiz, Jean Beajusejour and Francisco Silva (game-winner) put in their shots for Chile.
In the first round of penalties, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved Arturo Vidal’s attempt before Messi missed his.
Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, the tournament’s Golden Glove winner, stopped Lucas Biglia’s try.
The result officially will go down in the books as a tie -- that, according to international soccer rules -- but let's face it, it was a loss to the 29-year-old Messi and his countrymen.
"In the locker room I thought the national team is not for me,” a forlorn Messi said.
"It's difficult in this moment to do any analysis [about my national team future].”
Needless to say, it was an emotional night for the Barcelona superstar who has earned FIFA World Player of the Year honors a record five times. That doesn't include numerous club titles with the La Liga side.
Messi did not score in the match and then fired Argentina's first penalty kick wide right. He was so distraught with himself that Messi stood for the rest of the shootout holding his head in his hands.
"It's a great sadness that it happened again, the fact I missed a PK that was important,” Messi said.
Of course, Messi was not alone in his sadness as Argentina continued to miss winning the big one. In fact, the Argentines lost in a final for the third year in a row. That includes the 2014 World Cup, a 1-0 loss to Germany and to host Chile in the 2015 Copa America. As it turns out, Argentina fell in a shootout to its neighbors, 4-1.
Argentina hasn’t won an international title in 23 years, since Copa America 1993.
"It's incredible the fact that we can't win,” Messi said. “It happened to us again."
While the final was supposed to showcase the two best sides of the 16-team competition, referee Heber Lopes of Brazil in many respects stole the show. He assessed 10 cards over the 120 minutes -- two red cards (one to each team) and eight yellows.
Lopoes' first booking came in the 16th minute when Messi was tackled in his groin by Marcelo Diaz. Diaz received a yellow card for his troubles.
Five minutes later, Gonzalo Higuain probably had Argentina's best scoring chance when he stripped Gary Medel of the ball at midfield and raced in toward the Chilean net. Higuain fired a 10-yard shot wide left as Medel rammed into the left post.
Messi tried his magic on a free kick in 24th minute but Nicolas Otamendi headed the set piece wide right.
The first dismissal of the night came in the 29th minute when Diaz was awarded his second yellow card for impeding an onrushing Messi. It appeared Messi ran into the Chilean.
Not even was Messi immune from Lopes' wrath. The Brazilian game official ruled that the forward took a dive in the penalty area and awarded him a yellow card in the 40th minute.
Lopes helped even up the sides at 10 men apiece in the 43rd minute as he sent off Argentina midfielder Marcos Rojo for tackling Vidal.
For the most part, the second half was not much to write home about until the waning minutes.
Chile’s Eduardo Vargas forced goalkeeper Sergio Romero to make his first half with a hard shot in the 80th minute and Aguero blasted his 14-yard attempt wide right in the 84th.
After Argentina cleared a dangerous ball out of its penalty area, Messi tried one last hurrah in stoppage time. He raced half the length of the field, firing a shot wide left.
Goalkeepers dominated the first extra-time period. Romero made a save on Vargas’ header in the 99th minute and Bravo flipped Sergio Aguero’s header off Messi’s free kick over the bar a minute later.
That set it up Bravo's shootout heroics and Messi's demise and stunning post-game reaction.
Of course, Messi has every right to change his mind. He just had come close again to winning a title and fell short.
At least one person was certain he would change his mind -- Argentine coach Gerardo Martino.
“It’s tough and overbearing,” he said. “Athletes have risen themselves back up and I’m sure he’ll do it again.”