Argentina: Messi’s DebtBy: Juan Mesa
Lionel Messi is a two-headed monster.
One of those heads is a nightmare for any team in Europe when playing for FC Barcelona, the other one seems to shine way less while defending Argentina’s colors against other South American powerhouses. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner has only scored twice for his country in the two versions of the Copa América he has played. Still, he is the ace on a team that expects nothing but to win this time around.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: Of course, Messi is not the only star in Argentina’s attack. Next to him are Sergio Agüero, Angel Di María, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Carlos Tévez, who is back on the team after being passed over for the 2014 World Cup by former coach Alejandro Sabella. Even without Messi, this is one of the best groups of attackers on the planet. It is a shame that the beautiful game has become so strategic, which will mean that some of them will have to watch from the bench.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Argentina’s best defense is the attack, which is another way of saying their backline is weak. The center backs are slow, while the full backs aren’t as efficient as legendary Javier Zanetti was at his peak. Uruguay, Paraguay and Jamaica, Argentina’s rivals in Group B, know there are whole freeways open for their counterattacks.
COPA AMÉRICA CHANCES: Even with Messi’s negative record in South America, any team with him on the roster is the favorite to win any tournament. If Argentina doesn’t win the Copa América, expect months of national mourning in tango land.
FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Argentina has not won a FIFA tournament in the past 22 years, the last time being the 1993 Copa América in Ecuador. That team included historic players like Gabriel Batistuta, Diego Simeone and Fernando Redondo, and went on to achieve a streak of 33 unbeaten matches. The downside? They also suffered the worst defeat in Argentina’s history when they fell 5-0 against Colombia in the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup. Since then, Argentina has been a Copa América runner-up twice, in 2004 and 2007.
IF THEY WERE A MOVIE, IT WOULD BE: The Natural. Was Messi struck by lightning as a kid?