Lionel Messi Sends Argentina To Victory Over Brazil In Copa América Final
The Argentinian national soccer team took home a long-awaited victory in the Copa América final Saturday night, beating host team Brazil 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro and securing the title for the first time since 1993.
The championship game of the largest soccer tournament in South America came down to just one point, scored by Argentinian player Ángel Di María in the 22nd minute.
Argentina's win marks an especially poignant milestone for captain Lionel Messi, 34, who previously struggled to win an international championship with his home team.
"It's crazy. I can't explain how happy I feel," Messi said. "I've been sad many times but I knew it would happen and there's no better moment. This team deserved it," he added.
Messi is widely considered one of the best soccer players in the world, winning multiple titles with the Spanish club team Barcelona, but never sharing the same success with Argentina, until Saturday.
"If there's one thing that you could pick apart on Messi's legacy, it's that he'd never taken Argentina to the mountaintop, either the World Cup or Copa América, which for them is almost just as important," ESPN's Sebastian Salazar told NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro.
Messi and Argentina lost three international championships in a row, starting in the 2014 World Cup and then again in the 2015 and 2016 Copa América finals.
"It's a massive moment in not just Messi's career but in the history of soccer," Salazar added. "We've been watching this dude dominate the game for almost 15 years and to see him finally get that moment, I think if you're a football lover you think, OK that story's complete."
Brazil and Argentina's old-time rivalry was amplified by Messi's competitive friendship with Brazilian team captain and international soccer star Neymar. Following the game, the two shared an emotional embrace.
Notably, the Argentinian team celebrated their win in a virtually empty Maracanã Stadium Saturday night.
Organizers and local authorities only permitted a small number of spectators in hopes of further reducing COVID-19 transmission as Brazil continues to work at curbing numbers. At the end of June, the country reported an all-time high in cases of the disease.
Despite an inability to watch the game in person, fans still reveled in their team's win Saturday evening. From outside Maracanã Stadium to the streets of Buenos Aires, fans of Argentina rejoiced together, toasting the end of a 28-year long wait for victory.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.