Brasilia (Brazil): Argentina is enjoying the ‘Barcelona version’ of Lionel Messi at the Copa America. Lionel Messi is all set to make his 150th appearance for the national team when they take on Colombia in the Copa America semifinals Tuesday (Wednesday in India). The 34-year-old Messi is still seeking his first major success with Argentina, not counting Olympic gold in 2008.
However, this tournament is seeing a vintage Messi who has scored four goals and made four assists so far. Messi, so far, has been the fulcrum of the Argentina side.
Saturday he scored one goal and provided two assists in Argentina’s 3-0 win against Ecuador in the quarterfinals. It was Messi’s first game since his contract with Barcelona expired.
Messi has played a record 149 matches for Argentina. His inspired performances in the last five games are being compared to his best days with Barcelona.
“We have to take it easy, think about Colombia now. They are a tough team with players who are great, experienced, very quick up front, good defenders and fast counter-attackers,” Messi had said after the Ecuador game. “We hope to go step-by-step … And be at this final we crave for.”
Nine Argentina coaches have tried – some more than others – to replicate with Argentina the same Barcelona model that allowed Messi to shine and become the Catalan club’s all-time leading scorer. “This is the best player ever we are talking about,” said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni.
“The best that can happen to us soccer lovers is that he plays until … Until the age he can do it, and we enjoy it. Nothing else. Even adversaries enjoy it when he plays,” Scaloni added.
Messi’s teammates have played their part in his resurgence for Argentina, that last won the Copa America in 1993. Messi has a good understanding with Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso, all younger and dynamic midfielders. Striker Lautaro Martínez constantly pressures defenders and opens gaps for Messi to make the difference in the final third of the field.
Messi seems driven to be at the July 10 final at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the same stadium where Argentina – and Messi as captain – lost in the 2014 World Cup final to Germany.