“Lionel Messi will never be considered a great until he wins something with Argentina.”
You’ve heard this sentence, you’ve read this sentence, you might have even said this sentence.
It’s ridiculous. If Messi retired by the time you finished this blog he would be considered a great.
A five-time world player of the year great. A four-time Champions League winning great. An Olympic gold medal winning great.
And yet, the ridiculous people who say/write/tweet/slur this ridiculous sentence have something of a point.
In the same way Brazil scored a goal against Germany in that semi-final, a consolation point in a definitive defeat.
But now even that point looks like it’s about to be dismantled.
Over the next seven days we have the delightful opportunity to witness the coronation of greatness.
There is something so fulfilling about seeing a great athlete prove the critics wrong – whether it’s an ageing Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in Zaire, LeBron James leading the Cavaliers to an NBA title after going 3-1 down in the finals or the greatest footballer of his generation extinguishing those critics.
Messi, of course, has won with Argentina in the past – FIFA U-20 World Cup and 2008 Olympic Games glory are nothing to ignore – but he’s never tasted success with the senior team.
In the last two years they’ve come agonisingly, and increasingly, close; an extra-time loss to Germany in 2014 and a penalty loss to Chile in 2015.
His team now looks more complete than it ever has. Ever Banega has been performing wonderfully – breaking up opposition attacks, providing control and helping launch Argentina’s devastating attacking trio.
In Gonzalo Higuain, who inexplicably missed crucial chances in both the 2014 World Cup Final and the 2015 Copa America Final, they have a striker who is at the peak of his powers.
Javier Mascherano gives them invaluable experience and class. Nicolas Gaitan is a silky dribbler who can terrorise defenders or combine brutally with Messi and Higuain.
If all that doesn’t work coach Tata Martino can call on the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Erik Lamela, Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
But it’s not only the brutal quality of Argentina that gives them such a good opportunity of lifting the trophy, but also the weakness of the opposition.
Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico are already on their way home – or given the anger of their fans, probably on their way to some five-star resort very far away from home.
All that remains is tournament hosts the United States on Wednesday (LIVE on SBS) and the winner of Colombia and Chile (also LIVE on SBS Thursday).
USA have home advantage, which is important until you realise they have a serious player disadvantage compared to the other three - and a trio of key players suspended for the semi-final.
Colombia have had their moments, but there was little in their 0-0 win on penalties against Peru that gave you confidence they could beat Chile or Argentina.
Chile, the defending champions, look the biggest threat to Argentina. They just ripped apart Mexico 7-0 and tactically are the best organised side at the Copa 100.
But Chile, who have looked inconsistent outside of the last match, have lost their last two matches against Argentina. Including the opening match just two weeks ago, which Messi missed through injury.
Messi looks fresh – mentally and physically. Against Panama he came on with 30 minutes remaining, scored a hat-trick and an assist. Against Venezuela he assisted Higuain with a brilliant aerial through-ball and scored by nutmegging the Venezuelan keeper.
Injury has meant he hasn’t played as many matches with Barcelona or Argentina this season. Usually at this stage of the season he looks exhausted, whether from the sheer amount of matches or having to carry his teams in so many of them.
He seems to be more trusting of his team-mates and therefore is less likely to try and win the game all by himself.
He seems to be embracing the hysteria around him.
He seems to be on a path to victory.
Of course the haters and critics will not be silent if Argentina win when the Copa America Centenario when it' all said and done.
“He needs to win a World Cup,” they’ll say.
If he does so in 2018, and it’s a big if, they’ll say he needs to win three like Pele.
Maybe they have a point but for the next seven days let’s enjoy something that we’ll potentially tell our grandkids about.