Lionel Messi & Argentina: What next after Copa America red card?
Swap Jorge Burruchaga for Gonzalo Higuain and perhaps one of the doubts about Lionel Messi’s place in the pantheon would have been put to bed years ago.
The eternal complaint: that Messi has not won a senior title with Argentina. The eternal comparison: with Diego Maradona in 1986.
In that year’s World Cup final in Mexico, West Germany had fought back from two goals down to draw level.
Had they gone on to beat Argentina, Maradona’s reputation would have suffered.
Instead, he slipped a pass through for Burruchaga, who kept his head to score, win the World Cup and seal Maradona’s legendary status.
Messi, meanwhile, did much to carry Argentina to three finals in consecutive years.
Every time they went down to narrow defeats – 1-0 by Germany in the 2014 World Cup, and on penalties against Chile after goalless draws in the Copa America finals of 2015 and 2016. Every time the big chance of the match fell to Higuain – and every time it was wasted.
Perhaps Messi’s international career was cursed from the start.
He made his Argentina debut off the bench in a friendly against Hungary in 2005. He had only just come on when he launched into one of those trademark dribbles, ball tied to his left foot, swerving and changing direction as he went.
He flew past a Hungarian defender, who held on to him in an illegal attempt to impede his progress. Messi fought to free himself – and was shown a red card for throwing an elbow.