Argentina defeated Brazil in the Copa America final at Rio’s Maracana stadium, ending Lionel Messi’s wait for his first major international title.
Messi, 34, collapsed to the ground in delight as the final whistle blew, and was quickly mobbed by his teammates before being thrown in the air in celebration, as he finally claimed top-level honors with his country in his 10th major tournament.
He also helped Argentina end a 28-year drought by winning the competition, and he was named tournament player of the tournament after scoring four goals.
Angel di Maria scored the game-winning lob after intercepting Rodrigo de Paul’s lofted pass.
Messi had a chance to seal the victory, but he slipped with the goal at his feet, ruining what would have been the perfect ending for the Argentine captain.
“The happiness is immense. Many times I dreamed of this. I had a lot of confidence in this group that became very strong since the last Copa America. It is a group of very good people, who always push forward, who never complain about anything,” Messi said.
Brazil, the defending champions, were disappointing, with their only chances of note coming when Richarlison and Gabriel Barbosa forced Emi Martinez saves.
Messi’s opposite number 10 and former Barcelona teammate Neymar sank to his knees in tears at the final whistle, as his own personal pursuit of international success continues, despite missing Brazil’s 2019 Copa win due to injury.
The pair embraced in a long-lasting hug while waiting for the trophy ceremony, having played together at the Nou Camp between 2013 and 2017 before the Brazilian’s move to Paris St-Germain.
“If you knew the way that he (Messi) played in the Copa America you’d love him even more,” said Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni. You can never do without a player like him, even when he is not fully fit like in this game and the previous one.”
Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the game was watched by a small crowd of 7,000 invited guests, but it was the first of the tournament to have spectators in attendance.
The sparse home crowd made their voices heard, especially when Messi touched the ball, booing and jeering the forward.
The tournament, which had been delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and had been moved from initial co-hosts Colombia and Argentina, was switched to Brazil at the last minute in a decision that drew criticism due to a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.