Can Messi, Argentina rescue their Copa America?
Background image: Elizabeth da Silva Brites Santos, CC BY 4.0
If you count the Nations League, five major tournaments take place on four continents this summer. The Women's World Cup, Copa America, Gold Cup and the AFCON are the other four. Each raises questions. Perhaps the most compelling is whether Lionel Messi can cement his legacy as the game's greatest player by finally winning a major international trophy.
From 2014-16, Leo competed in two Copa America and one World Cup final, coming away empty each time. All three finals went 120 minutes. Messi and Argentina failed to score in those six hours. La Albiceleste couldn't get that far in Russia last summer. At 31, it's questionable whether the Maestro has another major tournament in him beyond the ongoing Copa America in Brazil.
It hasn't begun well. Colombia struck twice late through Roger Martinez and Duvan Zapata to take the Group B high ground by defeating Argentina. The good news is that Paraguay and Qatar drew 2-2, leaving Messi and Co's destiny in their hands.
The question is, can they? It's difficult to think about Argentina without their recent failures flashing through one's mind. Like England's before it, Argentina's golden generation is gradually fading away without fulfilling their potential. Their top stars having crossed 30. A few already retired. The window is closing.
Coming into the Copa, there was hope it was finally their year to break the hoodoo. That hope remains.
For one thing, any pressure on them is of their own making. Having failed on the grand stages in the past few years, expectations have dropped significantly. Pundits are playing down their chances. Knowing that should motivate Lionel Scaloni's men. They can focus on their game, give their best on the pitch and stay away from distractions. Colombia was the difficult test in the group stage. La Albiceleste should handle Paraguay and Qatar with ease and gain momentum for the knockout rounds.
There are young players in the squad with something to prove as well. Scaloni turned over a significant portion of the roster. Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain retired from international football. Mascherano is missed but Higuain cost Argentina in more than one important match. Willy Caballero, Sergio Romero, Gabriel Mercado, Marcos Rojo, Cristian Pavon, Ever Banega, Lucas Biglia and Maximiliano Meza will also not take part.
Now, Marcus Acuna, Nicolas Tagliafico, Leandro Paredes, Giovani Lo Celso, Roberto Pereyra, and Lautaro Martinez have their chance to shine. To a man, they are motivated to write history in Brazil.
One veteran of note remains. Sergio Aguero comes off a record-setting Premier League season with Manchester City. He'd love to take that momentum into the Maracana and stand on the winner's podium in celebration.
Nor can Messi be ignored. The playmaker had a prolific season with Barcelona, recording 51 goals and 21 assists. With time running out, he must be more determined to win for his country. Further disappointment in the Champions League adds more fuel to his competitive fire.
Low expectations, high motivation, new blood. It's a combination that could work for Argentina. Tonight, they face Paraguay. Their performance will reveal their intent for this tournament.