15 moments that illustrate Lionel Messi's international career
The five-time world player of the year's international career in a nutshell.
Shortly after Chile defeated Argentina in the finals of Copa America Centenario, Lionel Messi shook the footballing world by announcing his retirement from the international stage. The Barcelona star, who turned 29 last week, lost his fourth major final in a span of nine years. More importantly, three in his last three.
Lionel Messi has won several honours with his club Barcelona. However, his only major international honour is gold at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Let us take a look at the notable moments of his international career.
#1 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship
Being a dual Argentine-Spanish national, Messi was eligible to represent both countries. However, he chose to represent Argentina and made his debut for the country in an U-20 friendly against Paraguay, scoring once and providing two assists. He also played a crucial role in their qualification for the World Youth Championship.
As he was a victim of growth hormone deficiency in his early days, he lacked in stamina compared to his teammates. He trained hard to increase his muscle mass and returned to the squad in time for the FIFA U20 World Cup, which was then known as the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship.
Messi had a dream tournament as he played a key role in all of their knockout games- an equaliser against Columbia, a goal and an assist against title favourites Spain and scored the opening goal against the defending champions Brazil. In the finals, he scored two penalties against Nigeria, clinching Argentina’s fifth championship.
He won the Golden Boot as tournament’s top scorer with six goals and was also awarded the Golden Ball, an honour for the best player of the tournament.
#2 International senior debut – A day to forget
Lionel Messi got his first call-up to the senior team in 2005, following his heroics in the U-20 World Cup. Aged 18, he made his senior debut against Hungary when he came on as a substitute in the 63rd minute.
Messi’s debut turned sour as he was sent off in just two minutes for a foul against Vilmos Vanczak who had grabbed his shirt. He had struck the Hungary defender with his arm to unsteady the defender. However, the referee perceived it as intentional elbowing and hence Messi was shown a straight red.
#3 First international goal
Messi started his first game against Peru in the World Cup qualifiers. He had a decent outing and won a crucial penalty that ensured their victory.
He continued to make regular appearances for the national side in the World Cup qualifiers, heading to 2006 World Cup. Messi scored his first international goal and made his first assist against Croatia in an international friendly in 2006.
#4 2006 FIFA World Cup
Messi became the youngest player to represent Argentina at a World Cup when he came on as a substitute in the 74th minute against Serbia and Montenegro. In what was a 6-0 win for Argentina, Messi set up the fourth goal and scored the final goal to become the youngest goalscorer at the tournament.
He did not have a part to play in the quarter-final exit to Germany on penalties. However, his status as a footballing icon grew back home and there were questions raised from those who felt Messi could have changed the outcome of the match.
#5 2007 Copa America
Messi earned a place in the starting line-up, as a part of the team that was considered favourites to win the 2007 Copa America. Although the team was mainly built around star player Juan Riquelme, Messi stepped up with impressive performances.
He managed to score in the quarter-final and semi-final fixtures against Peru and Mexico respectively. In the finals, Argentina succumbed to Brazil 3-0, in what was the first major heartbreak in Messi’s international career. Owing to his spectacular performances, Lionel Messi was named the best young player of the tournament by CONMEBOL.