When the final whistle blew at the Maracanã on Saturday night, Argentina was confirmed as 2021 Copa América champion, bringing an end to the country’s 28-year wait for international glory, while Lionel Messi fell to his knees in triumphant elation.
He was on the verge of weeping when he suddenly disappeared — swallowed by a wave of teammates who only wanted to celebrate with their 34-year-old captain. Argentina’s infamous wait as a nation had long been overshadowed by Messi’s personal odyssey, particularly that harrowing nine-year period between 2007 and 2016 that included four major final defeats.
Messi wasn’t at his best (and was later revealed to have been carrying a hamstring injury), but for the first time he didn’t have to be. His influence was all over Argentina’s previous games (including an already legendary semifinal showing ), but it was Ángel Di María’s stop-and-pop that proved the match-winner.
DI MARIA GIVES ARGENTINA THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/UnX9ao34ZP— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 11, 2021
“I needed to get rid of the thorn of being able to achieve something with the national team,” Messi told reporters. “I knew that at some point it was going to go right, it was going to happen and I think there’s no better moment than this. I feel that God was saving this moment for me, against Brazil in the final and in their country.
“We still cannot believe that we are champions and what we have achieved. But I think it will be a match that will remain in history, not only because we are champions of South America but also because we beat them in their country.
“Lionel (Scaloni) deserves great credit. He always wanted the best for the national team. He knew how to put together a winning team and deserves recognition. We have to take advantage of this generation, this new crop of players. I told them they were going to be the future of the national team and I was not wrong. They showed it, today we are champions.”
This was a locker room celebration Messi and his teammates will never forget(via kunaguero, nicolasotamendi30, angeldimariajm IG) pic.twitter.com/WZMVGrzmf7
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 11, 2021
The scene was the same in Buenos Aires on Saturday night, where thousands gathered around the Obelisco in Plaza de la República.
On Sunday, the national team and trophy returned to Argentina.
¡Pura alegría en la llegada de los Campeones de América! Argentina salió del Aeropuerto de Ezeiza a puro canto y con el aliento de muchos hinchas que se acercaron a la terminal aérea. pic.twitter.com/TMUr3Y1XB0— SportsCenter (@SC_ESPN) July 11, 2021
— SportsCenter (@SC_ESPN) July 11, 2021
¡Los campeones de América volvieron a casa y todo es una fiesta! pic.twitter.com/wdNgjf2uaY— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) July 11, 2021
Messi gets to enjoy this one for as long as he wants, because his club situation appears clear now too. According to AS, he's been registered as a Barcelona player for the 2021-22 season.