It’s twelve years since Lionel Messi played in the first of four editions of the Copa América, with his fifth about to start in Brazil. But does anyone remember his first ever game in the competition?
The date was 28 June 2007, just four days before his 20th birthday, but by this time he was already being heralded as one of the best players in the world. He had appeared at the World Cup in Germany a year earlier – where manager José Pekerman came in for serious criticism for not making more use of the Barça-based youngster.
By 2007, Alfio Basile was in charge of the side and Messi was a natural pick as the tournament went to Venezuela for the very first time. Argentina were in a group with Paraguay, Colombia and their opening opponent, the United States, who they met at the Estadio José Pachencho Romero, Maracaibo.
Messi started the game, but rather than hat his now his trademark number 10 shirt, he had 18 on his back.
An Eddie Johnson penalty put the US into an unexpected lead. But Hernan Crespo levelled just two minutes later.
That score held until the 60th minute, when a Messi assist, already his sixth for his country, led to a second Crespo goal, and Pablo Aimar added a third before Messi was substituted by Carlos Tévez, who would go on to score the fourth and final goal in a 4-1 victory.
In the second game, Argentina beat Colombia 4-2, and although Messi didn’t score, it was he who won the penalty that led to Crespo opening the scoring.
With qualification assured, he didn’t start the final group stage fixture against Paraguay, but came on towards the end to set up the only goal of the game for his future Barça colleague Javier Mascherano.
In the knockout stage, Argentina met Peru, and it was there that Messi scored his first ever Copa América goal – converting a delightful through ball from former Barça team-mate Juan Román Riquelme (who scored two goals in that game) to help his team to a comfortable 4-0 win.
In the semi-final, Messi not only scored against Mexico in a 3-0 victory, but the goal, a delicate chip over the keeper, was voted the best of the tournament.
So that was Argentina through to the final, and although they were expected to have little trouble beating a young, experimental Brazil side in the final, they crashed to a 3-0 defeat in Caracas.