Lionel Messi Copa America retirement GFX

Remember when Lionel Messi shockingly retired from Argentina after the 2016 Copa America final? Yeah, we do, too

"My thinking right now, and thinking about it in the locker room, I'm done playing with the national team."

Those words shook the world in 2016. Lionel Messi - the world's greatest player - was left flabbergasted and speechless after the full-time whistle. The Copa America final, Argentina's second in as many years, slipped from their grasp once again.

"I tried my hardest," said a disconsolate Messi. "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 2014 FIFA World Cup final, three Copa America finals - with the third being that dreadful evening at MetLife Stadium in June of 2016, a loss in penalties to Chile - were weighing on his then 29-year-old mind. The Argentine was asked, one last time, if he would ever again wear the crest of La Albiceleste.

"I don't think so," he replied, with tears on his face. "I've thought about it. Like I said earlier, I tried everything possible to win. And that's it. It's four finals lost."

Distraught over his performance, Messi had convinced the world - and himself, seemingly - that he was done. No longer would he represent his country on the international stage, and no longer would he wear the crest of Argentina on the pitch.

Goosebumps covering arms, cottonmouth on their tongues, the world read and watched as the then-Barcelona superstar expressed an unforgettable moment of vulnerability.

Now, eight years from that moment, the Inter Miami star is set to lead La Albiceleste once again as captain. Copa America 2024 is here, and Argentina arrives as the reigning World Champion from the 2022 World Cup, ready to kickoff the tournament against Canada Thursday night in Atlanta.

But this storyline wasn’t always a given. Everything could be so, so different. What if Messi really did opt to retire in 2016? For at least two months, the world was convinced he did.

GOAL revisits those harrowing two months from 2016, and tries to answer a question that has loomed over international soccer since that memorable night: What the hell happened after that Copa America final at MetLife Stadium, and will we truly ever know?

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