Brazil beats Messi’s Argentina to Copa America final, denying him trophy yet again

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Lionel Messi reacts after the Copa America semifinal match between Brazil and Argentina at Mineirao Stadium on July 02, 2019 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Lionel Messi reacts after the Copa America semifinal match between Brazil and Argentina at Mineirao Stadium on July 02, 2019 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

It must be summer.

Because Lionel Messi’s Argentina has crashed out of a major international tournament without winning anything. After a lost World Cup final in 2014, subsequent title game defeats at the Copa America in both 2015 and 2016, and then a rotten 2018 World Cup campaign, the Albiceleste were eliminated from the 2019 Copa America by arch-rivals Brazil on Tuesday.

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Goals by Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino either side of halftime made it 2-0, as Messi, playing like his transcendent self for the first time all tournament after yet another draining season with FC Barcelona, hit the post but couldn’t will his nation to another final.

In a frantic, fiery, furious derby at the Mineirao, the scene of Brazil’s infamous 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany in its 2014 World Cup on home soil, the Selecao took a small step to banishing that fetid memory. Tite’s team now stands just a single victory, against either Chile or Peru, from winning its first Copa since 2007.

In one sense, it was miraculous that Argentina got this far at all. Interim manager Lionel Scaloni has been chopping and changing his team endlessly. But no matter what he does, it’s a mess. Messi has no help of consequence on this team. Scaloni is now technically unemployed from the instant Argentina’s tournament was over, such is the chaos in the Argentine federation.

Scaloni, in the first managerial appointment of his career, had gotten no less a mandate than to make the national team, badly in decay since many of Messi’s contemporaries retired or lost a step, less dependent on the five-time world player of the year. But all he’s created is a team even less suited to its new, quasi-direct style than it was just giving every ball to Messi and hoping for the best, even though he didn’t have the requisite supporting cast for that to work.

While Argentina was the only team to not win quarterfinals on penalty kicks, beating Venezuela 2-0, it had barely squeaked out of the group stage, needing a final-matchday win over Qatar just to advance.

As both the favorites and the home team, Brazil started out in a kind of rage, rocking the Argentines back on their heels.

That led to a fairly quick goal. In the 19th minute, the excellent 36-year-old captain Dani Alves won the ball and started an attacking move. He teed up Firmino with a no-look pass to his right, who slotted the ball across to Jesus for the emphatic finish.

It was pretty soccer. But it roused Messi, who turned 32 last week, from his tournament-long slumber.

He won a free kick after he was chopped down by Casemiro. His delivery was headed on by Sergio Aguero, out of the reach of goalkeeper Alisson but off the bar.

Messi, understandably and perhaps wisely, set about seeing if he could do it all by himself.

And whereas Brazil had been the much better team in the first half, Argentina came out in a determined mood for the second, finally forging chances to score.

Brazil, however, clearly had the better players on the night. And Philippe Coutinho got a good look off a splendid bit of Brazil play, prepared by some Jesus magic. But Coutinho got his finish all wrong.

Messi, unchained, then hit a half-volley off the near post, whereupon his subsequent effort rolled agonizingly across the goal mouth.

And then his free kick nearly caught Alisson out at his near post.

But Brazil summoned its second to effectively end the game. Against the run of play, finally favoring the Argentines, Jesus won ball, ran by three men and found Firmino for the tap-in.

That broke the resistance. That allowed the notion that it was all over for Argentina yet again to sink in. There would be no miracle of the Mineirao. Brazil would not be humiliated there a second time.

And now the question is whether we’ve seen the last of Messi in an Argentina shirt. Yet another Copa awaits next summer. But he’s savvy enough to understand that his chances are only getting worse, not better. There’s little in the pipeline and what miserly help he has will only get older and slower.

Messi still hasn’t won anything with Argentina’s senior national team. And it’s not looking like he ever will.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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