In an awe-inspiring tale of football, Lionel Messi finally broke his duck with the Argentina team, leading them to Copa America glory in 2021. Berated heavily due to his failure to win anything substantial with the national side, La Pulga silenced all his doubters with this title in emphatic fashion. Despite the 2021 Copa America trophy being his first major title at the international level, Lionel Messi has a rich history with Argentina in terms of football.
Lionel Messi's international escapades with Argentina
Also eligible to play for an emerging Spain side, the loyal Barcelona veteran famously chose to represent the country of his birth, making his debut in 2005. His first outing in the national setup ended as a disaster, with Lionel Messi receiving a red card just two minutes after coming onto the pitch.
However, the footballing wizard has since bounced back in style, becoming his side's top scorer with 80 goals in 156 appearances. Earning the captain's badge due to his salient leadership skills, Lionel Messi guided Argentina to three cup finals, including the prestigious FIFA World Cup in 2014. However, his teammates' failure to come to their leader's aid ended up in Argentina losing all their finals.
Popular for single-handedly dragging La Albiceleste to safety on many occasions, Lionel Messi has been pivotal to his national side's resurgence of late. Keeping his unreal talents in mind, let's take a look at five instances when Lionel Messi saved Argentina with his heroics:
#5 Argentina vs Uruguay, FIFA World Cup qualifier (2-1, 2008)
Vying for a place in the 2010 World Cup, Argentina began their CONMEBOL qualifiers in style, registering convincing wins in all three of their opening matches. However, their impressive start soon came to an end with a 2-1 loss to Colombia in the fourth round.
With Alfio Basile as their coach, Argentina slumped to four straight draws following their loss to Los Cafeteros, stretching their winless streak to five games. With an upcoming game against footballing giants Uruguay, everyone expected the woeful Argentinians to continue with their abysmal record in the qualifiers.
Nevertheless, Lionel Messi started the match in style, putting his side on top after just six minutes. La Pulga's early strike instilled a sense of urgency in his teammates and inspired them to double their lead with a 13th-minute goal by Sergio Aguero. The valor and commitment of the 21-year-old promising attacker caused Argentina to snatch an unlikely victory from the hands of Uruguay, disrupting their five-match winless run.
#4 Argentina vs Colombia, FIFA World Cup qualification (2-1, 2011)
In the lead up to their fabled 2014 World Cup run, Argentina had to overcome several obstacles. With Brazil acquiring direct qualification due to their status as the hosting nation, Colombia proved to be Argentina's toughest adversaries.
With hopes of establishing their supremacy early on, Colombia welcomed Argentina on the fourth matchday of the CONMEBOL qualifiers. The home side drew first blood, with Dorlan Pabon scoring a wonderful free-kick in the 44th minute. And just like that, Colombia seemed on track to announce themselves as the strongest South American side in Brazil's absence.
However, a 24-year-old Lionel Messi looked like a man possessed on his return to the pitch in the second half. A young prodigy back then, Messi quickly started dismantling the Colombian defence and successfully snatched an equalizer in the 60th minute. His dribbling abilities and passing proficiency inflicted another blow on the ambitious Colombians in the 83rd minute. To finish off a Messi-influenced attack, Sergio Aguero adequately buried in a loose ball to hand Argentina the win at the last moment.
Also read: 5 players Barcelona should have never sold
#3 Argentina vs Nigeria, FIFA World Cup (3-2, 2014)
Another classic of the 2014 World Cup, Argentina's clash against Nigeria, is undoubtedly one of the most memorable 'Lionel Messi matches' in the history of international football. In the final group stage round of the tournament, both teams had separate motivations to attain victory in the said fixture.
While a Nigerian win would've propelled them to first place in Group F, Argentina needed the win to stay on top and maintain their impressive winning streak. With such an enticing script, the game had all the means to be an absolute blockbuster. And it turned out to be just that. Two goals in the first four minutes laid down the foundation for what was to come.
Having scored his side's opener, Lionel Messi scored for the second time in the dying embers of the first half to give Argentina the lead. Although it was Marcos Rojo who sealed the winner in the 50th minute, Lionel Messi's stunning display was the major reason behind Argentina's victory in the 3-2 thriller. With this win, Alejandro Sabella's men finished the group stage as table-toppers, with no losses on their record.
#2 Argentina vs Iran, FIFA World Cup (1-0, 2014)
Having sneaked past Bosnia and Herzegovina in their first World Cup fixture of 2014, Argentina entered their game against Iran as clear favorites. Led by Lionel Messi, La Albiceleste were expected to put in a rampant performance against a much-weaker Iran side, establishing their dominance in Group F in the process.
However, Carlos Queiroz's men proved to be a much more formidable foe for the Argentinians, enticing everyone with their spectacular play. Iran were effective in keeping the big guns of Argentina silent, even holding Lionel Messi captive until the last moment of the game.
Despite their brilliant showing, the Iranians were left helpless when the six-time Ballon d'Or winner decided to take things into his own hands. In the 91st minute of the game, Lionel Messi broke every defensive shackle that had kept him quiet for so long. With a sublime curler into the left corner, he secured a famous win for Argentina, breaking millions of Iranian hearts in the process.
#1 Argentina vs Ecuador, FIFA World Cup qualification (3-1, 2017)
Conforming to his 'Messiah' status, Lionel Messi proved that he is indeed Argentina's best shot at World Cup glory when he single-handedly saved his side from elimination. Languishing in a lowly sixth place, the 2014 runners up desperately needed a win in their clash against Ecuador to finish in the top four.
With the sword of not qualifying for a World Cup hanging on their heads, Argentina conceded a goal in the first minute of the match. However, with Lionel Messi on their books, Argentina are never really out of the picture. Bringing his A-game to the decisive match, La Pulga combined with Angel Di Maria to equalize in the 12th minute.
Just eight minutes after his first goal, Lionel Messi produced an absolute banger from the edge of the box to put his side ahead. Not content with the one-goal lead, the talismanic forward went on to complete his hat-trick in the 62nd minute with a marvelous solo effort, burying Ecuador in the process.
At the end of the final whistle, Argentina emerged as comfortable winners of the tie and went on to secure a place in the 2018 World Cup. All thanks to one man and one man only, that is Lionel Messi.
Also read: 5 players Real Madrid should have never sold