Lionel Messi has long been chastised for his apparent failure to perform on the international stage, but the 34-year-old has finally exorcised his demons by helping Argentina win their first title in nearly three decades.
The Barca great has won everything there is to win at club level, but a lack of trophy with his country has long been a metaphorical millstone around his otherwise ostentatious neck.
True, it had been 28 years since the Albiceleste had won a major trophy, but the wait was finally ended thanks to a dramatic 1-0 win over Brazil in the Copa America final, which allowed the mercurial Messi to hold the massive trophy for the first time, and at the Maracana Stadium of all places.
Of course, Argentina was not a one-man show at the Copa, but their talisman put up the kind of stats that can prove the difference between first and second place.
Messi, in fact, outperformed practically all of his peers at the Copa America.
and Euro 2020 by outperforming Europe’s finest players in a number of critical areas.
Whereas Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, Lorenzo Insigne, Alvaro Morata, and Pedri all topped their fair share of performance rankings at Euro 2020, one name dominated many of the South American metrics.
After winning the Copa America, Lionel Messi celebrates.
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images MOST GOALS Euro 2020: Cristiano Ronaldo (5 goals in 4 games) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi (4 goals in 7 games)
Patrick Schick of the Czech Republic equaled Ronaldo’s goal total, but was denied the Golden Boot since the Portuguese also had an assist during the tournament, putting him ahead in the tie-breaker.
Messi made an immediate impact in the Copa America, scoring against Chile in Argentina’s first game.
He subsequently scored a brace in a 4-1 defeat of Bolivia in the final group stage game before scoring his fourth goal of the tournament in stoppage time against Ecuador in the quarterfinals.
MOST ASSISTS Euro 2020: Steven Zuber, Switzerland (4) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (5)
Messi not only scored key goals for his teammates in the Copa, but he also provided a consistent stream of assists for them, 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.
SGA data is used to illustrate when an individual player is executing better shots than the quality of chances being supplied to them. Euro 2020: Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland (1.25) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (1.35)
The higher the SGA number, the better the player is in taking advantage of his or her chances in front of goal.
Shaqiri’s goal against Spain in the quarterfinals gave him four goals in the previous four major tournaments: the World Cups in 2014 and 2018, as well as the Europeans in 2016 and 2020.
Nonetheless, the Liverpool striker finished the competition with a higher SGA rating than any other player.
It’s maybe unsurprising that the Copa America’s top goal scorer also happens to be the best finisher, but Messi showed himself to be at his most cost-effective while directing Argentina’s attack.
In the group stage, his wonderful lobbed finish against Bolivia was the perfect illustration.
The top tier!
The AgueroMessi duo gave us this wonderful goal to remember Bolivia Argentina #VibraElContinente #VibraOContinente pic.twitter.com/BgGfawBfKk — Copa America (@CopaAmerica) June 29, 2021 FREE-KICK GOALS Euro 2020: Mikkel Damsgaard, Denmark (1) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (2)
The 21-year-old Sampdoria winger also became the first player in over 40 years to score directly from a set piece at either a European Championship or a World Cup.
Messi scored twice as many direct free kicks at the Copa America than he did at the whole Euro 2020 tournament.
Argentina’s hero began his tournament with a classic exquisite curler against Chile in his first game, scoring his 57th career free kick.
He then added free kick No. 2 to his tally.
In the quarterfinals versus Ecuador, he scored 58 points by hammering one in from the edge of the penalty area.
MOST THROUGH-BALLS Euro 2020: Lorenzo Insigne, Italy, Paul Pogba, France (9) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (9) By the end of Euro 2020, both Insigne and Pogba had sliced open defences with well-judged progressive passes on nine occasions.
Messi replicated this total at the Copa, as he showed off his spatial awareness and vision while laying on excellent through-balls for his more mobile attacking partners.
MOST CHANCES CREATED Euro 2020: Marco Veratti, Italy (14) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi (21) Veratti offered a lot of creativity from the center of the Italian midfield, as well as breaking up play with his usual persistence.
Indeed, on his journey to hoisting the championship at Wembley, the Paris Saint-Germain star created 14 goal-scoring opportunities for his Azzurri teammates, while also putting in the hard work for which he is known.
Messi’s awareness and invention were on full show as the Argentine created 21 opportunities for his team in just seven appearances, a number only matched by Brazil’s Neymar.
Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Lionel Messi, Argentina (133) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (177) Pedri, Spain (17
Although losing in the semifinals, this culminated in a magnificent man of the match performance against Italy.
Messi, who is a constant threat in and around the 18-yard box, kept defenders busy and the ball moving quickly for Argentina with a series of exquisite passes in the attacking third.
MOST SHOTS Euro 2020: Dani Olmo, Spain (21) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (28) RB Leipzig winger Olmo took more shots during goal at Euro 2020 than any other player, but he failed to find the back of the net.
Messi had more shots than any other player at the Copa, letting go with 28 tries and scoring with about 15% of them, maybe demonstrating his desperation to help Argentina win.
MOST SHOTS ON TARGET Euro 2020: Patrick Schick, Czech Republic, Alvaro Morata, Spain (9) Copa America 2021: Lionel Messi, Argentina (11) Schick scored five goals from just nine shots on target at Euro 2020, a conversion rate of 55%.
For Spain, Morata was a touch less effective.
Morata, on the other hand, has three goals in six games and has converted 33.3% of his shots on target, which is nothing to sneeze at.
In seven appearances at the Copa, Messi found the target 11 times, scoring four times to finish the tournament with a 36% conversion rate.
Yet, we anticipate that once you have the trophy lifted above your head, all of this information will be meaningless!