No Copa, no GOAT? Messi has no chance of matching Maradona with this Argentina

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There is nothing that the other-worldly No. 10 desires more than a trophy with his national team, after so many near-misses over the years

Lionel Messi may have won every trophy possible with his club, but failure to gain a major title at international level still haunts the Barcelona talisman.

Barring a minor miracle, however, he will not be breaking that drought at the head of Argentina's 2019 Copa America squad. To put it bluntly, this is possibly the weakest and most disorganised national team he has been a part of to date.

The debate over whether Messi deserves the tag of Greatest of All Time, tiresome as it is, continues to rumble. If it were to be judged on pure footballing achievements the little Argentine wizard would perhaps have no peers, having performed feats on the pitch which have never been seen before and doing so consistently now for the best part of 15 years.

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Some, though, continue to hold his lack of a World Cup or Copa America winners' medal as evidence that he does not deserve to be considered in the same breath as a Diego Maradona or Pele. It is a disingenuous argument, to say the least.

Former Inter and Roma playboy Adriano, for instance, not only won the Copa with Brazil in 2004 but also finished that competition as top scorer, and nobody in their right mind would place the striker, as explosive as he was at his best, on the same level as Leo. Julio Baptista has two Copa medals; Uruguay pairing Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan each boast their own medal.

While all of the above are fine players, winning an international title does not put them above Messi, who has practically redefined everything we thought possible in the game and will most likely be remembered as the most scintillating natural talent ever to kick a football. What is undeniable, however, is that his legacy will be marked with an asterisk unless he can couple his heroics with Argentina with silverware.

Lionel Messi PS

"I want to finish my career and win something with the national team," Messi told Fox Sports in an uncharacteristically extended, candid interview after flying home in preparation for the Copa.

"I don't want to be left with the thought that things didn't work out. I want to pick myself up and try again. That's life: fall down, get back up again and fight for your dreams."

That drive to set the record straight is what motivated Messi to return to the Argentina setup in 2019 after almost nine months of inactivity following the nation's World Cup exit to France. But if success looked unlikely in Russia, this time round their chances of running out champions appear downright minimal.

Coach Jorge Sampaoli was sacked for his part in the Albiceleste's chaotic, failed campaign; and for want of a more established candidate Lionel Scaloni stepped into the breach. A brief period at the helm of the country's Under-20 side was Scaloni's sole experience as a head coach, and the year that has followed his appointment hints at a man learning the ropes through trial and error.

Scaloni has picked a bewildering number of players prior to this Copa America, some 50 in nine matches. Part of that indecision owed to the logical need to renovate an ageing squad. Just nine men have survived the post-Russia cull to line up in Brazil; a drastic alteration that, while necessary has left Argentina rudderless and disconcerted going into this tournament.

Those who have made the cut are almost strangers, with many playing together for the very first time in Saturday's 5-1 thrashing of pre-Copa cannon fodder Nicaragua, a game that provided precious few lessons due to the weakness of the opponents, many of whom only managed to catch up with Messi at the final whistle to request a selfie.

Lionel Messi Argentina 2019 Lionel Messi Argentina 2019

A double for the captain and for the promising Lautaro Martinez, as well as a fine showing from Giovani Lo Celso, nevertheless gave the Albiceleste a few glimmers of hope. But Colombia, their first test in Group B on Saturday, will be a far greater challenge and there is little certainty that Scaloni's men will be ready to hit the ground running in a match that could prove vital to their Copa chances.

Victory in this opening match could prove crucial. Whoever prevails – Paraguay and Qatar complete the quartet - is likely to go on to finish top of Group B. This would probably mean they avoid falling into the half of the knockout draw occupied by hosts Brazil, overwhelming favourites even without Neymar.

Even that outcome, however, may only serve to delay the inevitable. In their current state of uncertainty it is difficult to see Argentina prevailing against the likes of Colombia and Uruguay, let alone the host nation. The presence of Messi, the finest player of his generation and perhaps of all time, is of course a boost – but it is unlikely to be enough to deliver the title he so desperately craves and match Maradona as an Albiceleste idol.

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