Lionel Messi is back for Argentina after ban for calling Copa America referees ‘corrupt’ – and that outburst shows just how much he cares about the one glaring omission from his CV… winning a major trophy with his country
- Argentina face Brazil in a friendly in Saudi Arabia at 5pm on Friday
- It will be Lionel Messi’s first match since the Copa America in the summer
- He was handed a three-month ban for calling referees ‘corrupt’ after semi-final
- Messi was shown just the second red of his career in the third-place play-off
- He has never won an international trophy and will turn 35 at next World Cup
Lionel Messi returns to action for Argentina on Friday against their arch rivals Brazil in what will be his first international appearance since being banned for three months after claiming Copa America referees were ‘corrupt’.
Messi was furious in the wake of the 2-0 semi-final defeat by eventual winners Brazil in July, claiming that Sergio Aguero should have been awarded a penalty with the score at 1-0.
In post-match interviews Messi did not attempt to hide his fury, lamenting ‘bulls*** calls’ by the referee and claiming that ‘Brazil controls everything’.
Lionel Messi can’t hide his disappointment after Argentina’s semi-final defeat by Brazil
‘We don’t have to be part of this corruption,’ he fumed. ‘They have showed us a lack of respect throughout this tournament. Sadly, the corruption, the referees, they don’t allow people to enjoy football, they ruined it a bit.’
Still seething, Messi was shown just the second red card of his career in the third-place play-off against Chile just four days later after a tangle with former Cardiff man Gary Medel, who was also sent off.
Though few could disagree that the sending off was harsh, the anger Messi displayed was a clear reaction to his frustration at being knocked out by Brazil.
For the record, Aguero was clearly tripped and Medel was the aggressor in the red card incident against Chile, when a yellow for both would have sufficed.
Messi is a shown a red card after his clash with Gary Medel in the third-place play-off
Argentina have coped pretty well without their 136-cap talisman and captain, thrashing Mexico 4-0 and Ecuador 6-1 as well drawing 2-2 away to Germany.
But barring their usual plethora of attacking options – Messi, Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martinez are all in the current squad – the current Argentinian crop are low on star quality by their historically high standards.
Or, in other words, they need Messi now more than ever.
In stark contrast to his stellar club career, frustration has come to be the word that best sums up Messi’s international career.
Messi has never won the Copa America, with Argentina’s last triumph coming way back in 1993. They have lost three finals in that time with Messi playing in them all. The last two of those defeats were in penalty shootouts against Chile teams featuring Medel – some of the anger explained there then.
Messi steps off the Argentina team bus during the last day of a training camp in Mallorca
Messi trains with his Argentina team-mates ahead of his return to action against Brazil
He has also been involved in all four World Cups since his international debut in 2005, coming closest to winning it in 2014 when Argentina were beaten in extra-time in the final by Germany.
Yet the fire still obviously burns in Messi otherwise we wouldn’t see him turning out against Brazil in Saudi Arabia on Friday, preparing perhaps for one last push at the World Cup in 2022, during which he will turn 35.
Before that, there is the Copa America next summer jointly hosted by Argentina and Colombia, where Messi will be looking to finally end that international trophy drought.
But it is clear that Messi cares an awful lot about playing for his country and the lack of a trophy for Argentina is the one blot on his unparalleled CV.
Don’t be surprised if he comes back with a bang against Brazil.