Copa America: Argentina wait for Lionel Messi’s magic

Belo Horizonte: For the last dozen years, Argentina has been waiting for global superstar Lionel Messi to lead their football team to a major international trophy.

But when the the country needed the five-time Ballon d'Or winner most, Messi failed to emulate the feats of Diego Maradona in 1986, when for some he almost single-handedly won the World Cup.

Four times Messi has lined up with Argentina in a major final, the 2014 World Cup and Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016, but every time they have lost.

He has often come under criticism for failing to reproduce his Barcelona form when wearing the sky blue and white jersey of the national team. Now, ahead of a mouth-watering Copa semi-final against hosts Brazil in Belo Horizonte, Argentines are simply waiting for Messi to turn up.

"This is the match for Messi to appear," screamed Ole newspaper's online edition after Argentina beat Venezuela 2-0 to secure the Brazil semi-final.

Ironically, at this tournament, while Argentina's performances have been improving steadily, Messi has, if anything, become less influential. Argentina were all at sea in their opening 2-0 defeat to Colombia and needed a Messi penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw with Paraguay.

But in the 2-0 win over Qatar that qualified Argentina for the knock-out rounds, and the quarter-final victory over Venezuela by the same score, Messi became an increasingly peripheral figure.

He admitted as much after the Venezuela match, saying, "I'm not at my best level, I'm not playing how I hoped I would. I'm not having my best Copa America."

Brazil center-back Thiago Silva is not so convinced, though. "For me, Messi is the best player in history, the best I've ever seen play. It's a privilege to play against him," said a player who hails from the country that produced Pele, Garincha, Socrates, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.Messi turned 32 during the tournament and while he doesn't appear close to retirement, it cannot be too many years away.

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