There is no longer any doubt: Messi finding success with Argentina is becoming an even taller order. At the ninth time of asking, he has failed with a national side not short of past glories, representing a country with football squarely in the foreground. Yet for the player many claim to be the ‘best ever’ he has been unable to bring back the green pastures of success. Two World Cups and 14 Copa Américas in a fruit-bearing past have made way for a drought. This time, however, Messi cannot shoulder the blame. Against Brazil, he played well and was involved in creating Argentina’s best chances - he hit the post and it was his pass that led to Agüero doing the same - but he finished the game dejected and ill-tempered, railing at the referee.
For Messi and his legion of supporters it is yet another setback. There have been too many attempts with Argentina to bridge the wide-open gap at the heart of a country that separates him from Maradona and his unforgettable World Cup. One more journey in vain adds to the image of a player who struggles on the biggest stage, something that also occurs at Barcelona, particularly in recent years when we have seen him downcast and ineffective in heavy defeats suffered at the hands of Bayern, PSG and Liverpool – even in the famous comeback against PSG he was often peripheral; Neymar was much more influential, not to mention Aytekin.
When all is said and done, we will be able to debate, at a healthy distance, who exactly is the best ever, a dogma upheld by Messi's biggest followers. Firstly, some of us have seen Di Stéfano, Pelé and Maradona (I’m not putting Cruyff quite on the same level), and then there is Cristiano, who is close but slightly behind in pure footballing terms, a devastating player whose powers are starting to diminish. In terms of Messi, it’s easy conjure up so many wonderful moments in your mind’s eye, but blank spaces on the big occasion mean doubts start to creep in. It was precisely under the biggest spotlights that Di Stéfano, Pelé and Maradona shone the brightest.