Argentina versus Uruguay is one of the oldest international football fixtures and on Thursday the two teams will vie for the top spot in the South American qualifying zone for the 2018 World Cup. The match will mark Lionel Messi’s return for La Albiceleste since he reversed his decision to retire last month.
On June 27, after Argentina lost the centennial Copa America final to Chile on penalties, a year after losing the final of the tournament to the same opponents in a shootout, Messi quit as an Argentina player.
“I tried my hardest. It’s been four finals, and I was not able to win. I tried everything possible. It hurts me more than anyone, but it is evident that this is not for me. I want more than anyone to win a title with the national team, but unfortunately, it did not happen,” a tearful Messi told reporters after the Barcelona superstar missed a penalty, leading to Argentina’s fourth loss in a major final.
As Messi returns for La Albiceleste, here’s a look at the heartbreaks he has faced in Argentina colours:
2007 Copa America final
Argentina started as favourites. Just a year after his international and World Cup debut and rapidly evolving into one of the world’s best players, Messi scored against US and earned a penalty against Colombia. He set up the winning goal against Paraguay and scored against Peru and Mexico to send Argentina to the final, where they were thumped 0-3 by Brazil. There was widespread criticism at home but Messi, named the best young player of the tournament, was spared.
2014 World Cup final
Messi went into the tournament in Brazil after an injury-hit season with Barcelona, but delivered as captain, winning the Man-of-the-Match awards in the first four matches, scoring in each of them. He set up the winner against Belgium and La Albiceleste were in the semifinals, where they beat Netherlands 4-2 on penalties.
In the final against Germany, he played a part in a ‘goal’ that was ruled offside. Later, he missed some scoring opportunities, including one in the dying minutes after Mario Goetze scored what turned out to be the winner for Germany.
Messi won the Golden Ball as player of the tournament.
2015 Copa America final
Argentina entered the Copa as favourites again. Messi led his team into the knockout stage, with a draw and two wins. Argentina prevailed over Colombia on penalties, following which Messi played a vital role in all six goals in the 6-1 hammering of Paraguay. The final against Chile, a tense, physical match, ended 0-0 after extra time, and Argentine lost 1-4 on penalties with only Messi converting.
2016 Copa America Centenario final
A back injury suffered in a friendly put Messi’s participation in doubt but he was included in Gerardo Martino’s squad. He sat out for the first game and came on as a substitute in the next, scoring a hat-trick in 19 minutes in a 5-0 win over Panama. He had two assists and scored one against Venezuela to equal Gabriel Batistuta’s Argentina record of 54 goals, which he broke in the next game against US.
In the final, Argentina lost to Chile on penalties again, with Messi’s kick flying over the bar.