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After his nation bow out with a whimper on home soil, Goal.com assesses the double Ballon d'Or winner's goalscoring stats, which vary significantly from club to country

ANALYSIS
By Paul Macdonald

In arguably the most dramatic succession of fixtures the Copa America has ever witnessed, tournament favourites disintegrated in a multitude of shocks. Brazil, Chile and Colombia were found wanting, but Argentina's inability to dispose of 10-man Uruguay was perhaps the eyebrow-raising result that will define 2011's edition of the competition.

Sergio Batista's hosts, with the incomparable Lionel Messi in their ranks, were expected to deliver silverware for the first time since 1993 to a nation desperate for success. Not since Diego Maradona's international career was unceremoniously laid to rest has the emphatically football-minded nation been able to taste glory. Similarly, a talent such as Maradona had not emerged since, amid many a false dawn and proclamation.

In his homeland, the 2011 Copa was meant to be Messi's moment, the 24-year-old coming to the fore for his nation. But, similar to the previous three major competitions of which he was a part, it has ended in disappointment.

GOALS-PER-MINUTE RATIO
Barcelona 2010-11 vs Argentina in major tournaments

La
Liga

Champs
League
Copa/
SuperCopa
Total
Goals
31 12 10 53
Minutes 2984 1099 686 4769
Goals p/m 96.2 91.5 68.6 89.9
Copa
America
World
Cup

Total
Goals
2 1
3
Minutes 846 662   1508
Goals p/m 423 662   502.6

The undeniable fact is that Messi simply doesn't score as prolifically for his country as he does for Barcelona. As the stats above indicate, his goal-to-minute ratio for the Spanish giants worked out to be, almost precisely, a goal per game in 2010-11, as the Catalans collected the Primera Division and Champions League titles.

Fifty-three goals in all competitions arrived after netting 47 times in 53 appearances in 2009-10, and a further 38 in 51 in the Triplete-winning season of 08-09. Since Pep Guardiola's arrival in the Camp Nou hotseat, Messi has been simply insatiable in front of goal. The same can't be said for his spells under a variety of coaches in the seleccion.

From World Cup 2006 in Germany, where he was used sparingly by Jose Pekerman, until Argentina's fresh failure, Messi's average in major competitions is over 500 minutes, and significantly, his last tournament strike was his wondrous lob against Mexico in the 2007 Copa America semi-final. Two showpiece events, with the attacker barely missing a minute, have passed since without the net being rippled.

GOAL COMPARISON 
Messi vs South American rivals since 2006
Player 2006
WC
2007
Copa
2010
WC
2011
Copa*
Total
Diego Forlan DNP
3 5 0 8
Robinho 0
6
2
0 8
Hernan Crespo 3 3 DNP
DNP
6
Juan Riquelme 0 5 DNP DNP 5
Gonzalo Higuain DNP DNP 4 1 5
Luis Suarez DNP DNP 3 1 4
Roque Santa Cruz 0 3 0 1 4
LIONEL MESSI 1 2 0 0 3
*Event not complete
DNP = Did Not Play
         

When matched up with the strike rates of South American attackers over a similar period, Messi's record is, once again, disappointing. Of the seven highest-scoring players from the continent across the past two Copas and World Cups, it should be noted that only Robinho and Santa-Cruz took part in all four. The most ironic point is that Messi took just 13 minutes of his debut outing in the World Cup to net past Serbia in a sublime 6-0 win. Unfortunately, it has been downhill since - at least in terms of finding the target for the Albiceleste.

The home support were somewhat critical of the Ballon d'Or holder after the 0-0 draw against
MESSI | COPA 2011
Team

Bolivia
Colombia
C. Rica
Uruguay
Assists

0
0
2
1
Shots

2
0
2
2
 Target

2
0
0
2
Fouled

5
1
2
10
Colombia in the group stage of this year's Copa, but his protectors will point to the fact that it was his incisive play that cut Costa Rica to shreds in the following encounter, his assist that provided Gonzalo Higuain with the equaliser before the penalty-shoot out capitulation against Uruguay, and had there been more accurate finishing from those around him, Argentina may still be alive in the competition.

Messi has reverted to a more central role in recent years for his country, after beginning his career from the flank, as he did with Barcelona. Batista's desire to build his team around the star just as Guardiola looks to do has seen him employed in the 'false 9' position, dropping off deep to create the play. However, as the 2011 competition developed, Batista shifted to a 4-2-3-1, and utilised Messi as conventional No. 10, behind out-and-out frontman Gonzalo Higuain.

In either area of the pitch, however, what is notable is how many efforts on goal Messi attempted. In four Copa matches, he managed just six shots, of which four landed on target. Compare that to his league stats with Barcelona in 2010-11; 150 shots, 80 on target, across 31 matches. Therefore, at the Copa, his shot-per-game ratio was 1.5. In La Liga, it was 4.8 - more than three times as many. In the Champions League, he was even more prolific with his shooting, firing in 69 shots in 11 encounters - an average of 6.27. The stats, therefore, appear to suggest that in the colours of Barca, Messi seems more inclined to shoot for goal than for Argentina.

It is also worth noting that Messi was fouled on 57 occasions throughout the entire 10-11 Primera Division campaign. Yet in the Copa, he was upended 18 times in just four matches - 4.5 fouls per game, as opposed to 1.83 in Spain. In the Uruguay clash, in particular, he was fouled on no less than 10 occasions.

Whatever way the stats can be perceived, one thing is clear; Messi will be devastated to have suffered such a premature exit from the competition, and while the blame may not be placed at his door, the spectre of Diego Maradona continues to hang over him. The iconic image of 'El Diego' lifting the 1986 World Cup remains a level of adulation that he must continue to aspire to reach.


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