Lionel Messi has long faced criticism for perceived failure to deliver on the international stage, but the 34-year-old finally exorcised those demons by playing an instrumental role in Argentina claiming their first trophy in almost three decades.
The Barcelona star has won all there is to win at club level, but a lack of silverware with his country had long served as a metaphorical millstone around his otherwise elaborately decorated neck.
Indeed, 28 long years had passed since the Albiceleste‘s last major triumph, but that came to an end via a tense 1-0 win over Brazil in the final of the Copa America — leaving the mercurial Messi to hoist the enormous trophy aloft for the first time, and at the Maracana Stadium, of all places.
Of course, Argentina were no one-man team at the Copa, but their talisman racked up the kind of numbers that can prove the vital difference.
In fact, Messi outperformed almost all of his contemporaries at Copa America … and Euro 2020 too by eclipsing the best players in Europe in a number of key areas.
Whereas the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, Lorenzo Insigne, Alvaro Morata and Pedri all topped their fair share of the performance rankings at Euro 2020, there was one name dominating many of the analytics in South America.
Euro 2020: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal; Patrik Schick, Czech Republic (5)
Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (4)
Despite dropping out in the first knockout round, Ronaldo still managed to finish top of the goal-scoring charts at Euro 2020 with five goals in four games.
Patrik Schick of the Czech Republic matched Ronaldo’s tally but ultimately missed out on the Golden Boot due to the Portuguese also claiming an assist during the tournament, thus nudging ahead in the tiebreaker.
Messi wasted little time opening his account at the Copa, scoring against Chile in Argentina’s first game. He then followed up with a brace in the 4-1 rout of Bolivia in the final group stage game before claiming his fourth goal of the tournament with a powerful free kick in stoppage time against Ecuador in the quarterfinals.
Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Zuber wasn’t a name many expected to see finish top of the assist table at Euro 2020, but the industrious Swiss laid on four for his teammates in as many games during his country’s run to the quarterfinals.
As well as chipping in with important goals, Messi also provided a steady stream of assists for his colleagues at the Copa, including two assists in one match against Ecuador in the last eight and one assist for Lautaro Martinez‘s early opener against Colombia in the semis.
SHOOTING GOALS ADDED (SGA)
Euro 2020: Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland (1.25)
Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (1.35)
SGA data is used to highlight when an individual player is executing better shots than the quality of chances being provided to them. The higher the SGA number, the more said player is making of his opportunities in front of goal.
By notching for Switzerland against Spain in the quarterfinals, Shaqiri has now scored in the last four major tournaments — World Cups in 2014 and 2018, and Euros in 2016 and 2020. What’s more, the Liverpool forward also ended this latest tournament campaign with a higher SGA rating than any other player.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Copa America’s top goal scorer also happens to be the best finisher at the competition, but Messi proved himself to be at his economical best while leading the line for Argentina. His delightful lobbed finish against Bolivia in the group stage being the perfect example.
¡Nivel de elite! La dupla Agüero🇦🇷Messi nos dejó este gol fantástico para el recuerdo 🤩
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) June 29, 2021
Damsgaard scored the only direct free-kick goal at Euro 2020, beating Jordan Pickford from 25 yards as Denmark claimed first blood against England in the semifinals. In doing so, the 21-year-old Sampdoria winger also became the youngest player to score direct from a set piece at either a European Championship or a World Cup in over 40 years.
Messi himself scored twice as many direct free kicks at Copa America than were seen at the whole of Euro 2020. The Argentina star got his tournament up and running with a classic deft curler against Chile in his opening game to score the 57th free kick of his career. He subsequently followed up with free kick No. 58 by thrashing one in from the edge of the penalty area against Ecuador in the quarterfinals.
⚽️ ¡Tremendo Messi! El capitán de @Argentina metió un golazo ante Chile 👏🏼👏🏼
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) June 14, 2021
Both Insigne and Pogba were level-pegging in terms of incisive approach play come the end of Euro 2020, having both carved defences open with well-judged progressive passes on nine occasions.
This tally was matched by Messi at the Copa, who put his spatial awareness and vision to good use while laying on accomplished through-balls for his more mobile attacking teammates.
MOST CHANCES CREATED
Euro 2020: Marco Verratti, Italy (14)
Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina; Neymar, Brazil (21)
As well as breaking up play with his trademark tenacity, Verratti also provided an awful lot of creativity from the heart of the Italian midfield. Indeed, the Paris Saint-Germain star produced 14 goal-scoring chances for his Azzurri teammates on their way to lifting the trophy at Wembley, while also indulging in the hard work he’s renowned for.
Messi’s powers of perception and inventiveness were on full display as the Argentine carved out 21 chances for his side over the course of just seven appearances — a phenomenal rate only matched by Neymar.
MOST PASSES IN FINAL THIRD
Euro 2020: Pedri, Spain (177)
Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (133)
Pedri emerged at Euro 2020 as a bright new hope for Spain, with the 18-year-old conjuring visions of great technical Barcelona midfielders of yesteryear with a string of impressive performances for Luis Enrique’s side. This culminated in a virtuoso man of the match outing against Italy in the semifinals, despite finishing on the losing side.
An ever-present danger in and around the 18-yard box, Messi once again kept defenders occupied and the ball moving at speed for Argentina with a precession of intricate passes in the attacking third.
Euro 2020: Dani Olmo, Spain (21)
Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (28)
RB Leipzig winger Olmo took more shots at goal than any other player at Euro 2020, though ultimately failed to find the back of the net at the tournament.
Perhaps showing his desperation to fuel Argentina to glory, Messi mustered more shots than any other player at the Copa, letting fly with 28 attempts and scoring on roughly 15% of them.
MOST SHOTS ON TARGET
Euro 2020: Patrik Schick, Czech Republic; Alvaro Morata, Spain (9)
Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (11)
In an outstanding display of efficiency, Schick managed to score five goals from just nine attempts on target at Euro 2020 — a conversion rate of 55%.
Morata was a little less proficient for Spain. However, with three goals in six games, Morata found the back of the net with 33.3% of his attempts on target, which is nothing to be sniffed at.
Messi found the target 11 times in seven appearances at the Copa, scoring four times to end the tournament with a conversion rate of 36%. However, we suspect that all of this data means little once you’ve got the trophy held above your head!