Nine major international tournaments, nine times Lionel Messi has tasted disappointment with Argentina.
Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Brazil in the 2019 Copa America semifinal is the latest in an ever growing list of heartbreaks with the national team that could leave arguably one of the greatest players of all time without a trophy for his country.
The latest disappointment wasn’t enough to force Messi into international retirement – as he did after defeat to Chile in the 2016 final – but, uncharacteristically, he didn’t hold back in his criticism of the referee.
“They were not better than us,” Messi told reporters after the game in Belo Horizonte. “They found the net early and the second goal came from a penalty they didn’t award,” added the 32-year-old Barcelona star, referring to a challenge on Sergio Aguero in the prelude to Roberto Firmino’s strike that made it 2-0.
“The officiating was crazy. There were clear penalties, on Nicolas Otamendi, on Sergio Agüero.
“He [the referee] was on their side. In every divided ball or dispute, he tilted the pitch their way. It’s not an excuse but the truth is that. In this Copa they kept on blowing for stupid things, for handballs, penalties.
“But today, they didn’t even go to VAR when there were clear plays that should have been looked at.”
It may sound like sour grapes but on closer examination, perhaps Messi has a point. If fans thought the use of VAR at the Men’s and Women’s World Cup was perplexing, this Copa America has taken the confusion to another level.