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One man’s name is standing head and shoulders above the rest at the Copa America Centenario in the US, and that man is Leo Messi. After scoring once and supplying two assists in Tuesday’s 4-0 semi-final victory against the hosts, the Barça star collected his third MVP award of the tournament.
That’s especially impressive considering he didn’t come into the tournament fully fit, sitting out his team’s first game against Chile and only playing a combined 65 minutes of the other two group games against Panama and Bolivia.
The local press used the kind of phrases reserved only for the very best following his stellar performance in Houston.
“While the crowd might have been 65% pro-American, Messi got the biggest cheer of the night. No one who sees him play forgets it” wrote Martin Rogers of USA Today. “America doesn’t have a Messi or anyone like him. But in that sense, it is certainly not alone.
“US captain Michael Bradley said before the game that the American media talks about Messi too much. In all reality, it might not be enough.”
Describing his stunning goal on 32 minutes, Steven Goff of the Washington Post gushed that “the US wall was mere decoration. Lionel Messi’s left-footed free kick cleared the barrier and, as if under the direction of coordinates, sought out the high right corner of the net … A capacity crowd at NRG Stadium gasped and marvelled.”
It’s the kind of brilliance that Barça fans have almost come to accept as routine. Messi scored seven free-kicks for his club last season, and this was the second one he has converted at USA 2016.
And it was a very special goal too. Messi made history by surpassing the great Gabriel Batustuta to become Argentina’s highest goalscorer of all time. That was his 55th goal for his country, and his 50th of the season (41 for Barça and 9 for Argentina).
As Corey Roepken of the Houston Chronicle scribed, in the build-up to the game “the Americans' answers consistently spoke of respect for Messi but also that they thought he was human. That was their biggest mistake. He usually is not. He definitely was not on Tuesday night.”
“The Americans had been hoping for one of the biggest upsets in their history, but they knew it would require suppressing Messi” offers a similarly awe-struck David Walstein of the NY Times. “Instead, the extraordinary gifts bestowed on his two small feet were too much for the Americans to overcome, delighting the Argentina fans, who were a minority in the stadium.”
In his own words
But despite such praise, the man himself was his typically modest self after the game. “I’m happy” he said when asked about his new national record. “But I have to thank every team-mate that I’ve ever played with. This record is all thanks to them.”
"I’m happy for what we’ve achieved. We’ve been doing spectacular things since the day we got here and we deserve to be where we are because of the hard work we’ve put in.”
And where they are is on the verge of ending a major trophy drought dating back to 1993. After winning everything there is to win at FC Barcelona, Leo Messi would dearly love to finally add a senior international winners’ medal to his glittering collection. He has the chance to do just that on Sunday.
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