Lionel Messi’s incredible performances earlier in the tournament appeared to indicate that he and La Albiceleste were ready to end the 23-year wait for a major trophy and end the run of final defeats at the third time of asking. However, between Gonzalo Higuaín missing a guilt edged chance in normal time and the agony of penalties, Chile ensured that a repeat of 2015 broke Argentine hearts.
Messi looked to be the only player in normal time that could muster a winner but was the protagonist in the shootout when he blazed over Argentina’s first effort and handed the momentum to La Roja.
A glaring miss from the world’s best player meant the writing was on the wall and so when Lucas Biglia missed the fourth effort it allowed Francisco Silva to roll in the winner and hand Chile a second Copa América title.
As if the pain of a third consecutive final were not enough, Messi said immediately after that he would be retiring from international duty.
“For me the national team is over. I’ve done all I can, it hurts not to be a champion,”explained the 29-year-old.
“I tried my hardest, it’s been four finals but I was not able to win. I tried everything possible. It hurts me more than anyone but it is evident that this is not for me.”
The decision is undoubtedly linked to the chaos within the Argentine Football Association and the Barcelona star voiced his frustration with the organisation in the build up to Sunday’s final but a new president must add persuading Messi to continue as a priority task.
The squad and the nation will be hoping that the newly crowned record goal scorer will reconsider in time but the immediate concern is that it could spark further retirements.
Javier Mascherano and Sergio Agüero are two close friends who are tipped to follow and with rumours that coach Gerardo Martino will also walk away, the AFA have a huge task ahead of them in rebuilding the side.
Messi has now been on the losing side in four major finals at senior level and certainly an inquest into why such a talented Argentina squad have failed to score in all four matches is required but at 29, it is far too soon to replace arguably the greatest talent in the history of the sport.
Gerardo Martino is supposed to begin work next week with the under-23 squad travelling to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic games and there is still a huge amount of work to do in World Cup qualifying, so Argentina cannot afford to sit idly.
The often shambolic world of Argentine football has rarely looked in as much disarray as it does at the moment and while the future is littered with uncertainty, it is clear that Lionel Messi’s international career cannot end with that penalty miss in East Rutherford.