Lionel Messi ended his long wait for a major title in Argentina colours as La Albiceleste edged arch-rivals Brazil 1-0 at the Maracana to regain the Copa America after a gap of 28 years. The triumph would have been special for Messi who had to be content with the runner-up medal in the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America. Messi was also part of the team which was thrashed 3-0 by Brazil in the final of the 2007 Copa America.
In fact, after the shootout loss to Chile in the 2016 final, Messi even called it quits from international football but reversed his decision on the advice of then national team manager Edgardo Bauza. The defeats rankled Messi, who is acclaimed as easily the best player of his generation and one of the all-time greats of the game.
The left-footed wizard had won almost everything at the club-level with Catalan giants FC Barcelona. But the very fact he could not lead the national team to success meant he never really enjoyed the respect and love that Diego Maradona commanded from his countrymen. His biggest competitor Cristiano Ronaldo had led Portugal to the European Championships triumph in 2016.
Messi's case was similar to that of Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Labelled as the world's best batsman, Tendulkar had to wait for 19 years and six attempts before he could lay his hands on the ICC World Cup in 2011. But just like Tendulkar, Messi kept believing that he could break the jinx and finally he has won a silverware with the national team.
Argentina had last won a major title in 1993 and the inability to win a trophy was the only blot on Messi's glittering career. But he made amends this time after years of agony and heartbreaks in blue and white. Making it extra special, he finished joint top-scorer along with Colombia's Luis Diaz and also shared the tournament's best player award with Brazilian superstar Neymar.
Now with the monkey off their back, Messi and Co. can hope to dream even big. Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup next year and it could well be Messi's final shot at glory in the biggest prize in world football. Argentina under Lionel Scaloni have shown plenty of flair and grit and the Copa America triumph should spur them on.