Lionel Messi finally won a first major title with Argentina as his national side triumphed 1-0 against Brazil in the Copa America final in Rio de Janeiro.
The victory at the iconic Maracana stadium ended Argentina’s 28-year wait for a major trophy, and also finished Brazil’s unbeaten home record that stretched back more than 2,500 days.
While 34-year-old Messi’s long wait came to an end, Brazil’s Neymar, five years his junior, is still without a major title as Brazil failed to lift the trophy for the first time in six editions on home soil.
People took to the streets in Argentina to celebrate the win while Argentine TV celebrated the title as Messi’s, declaring: “Argentina Champions, Lionel Messi Champion!”
The Argentine players surrounded their captain at the final whistle. Goalkeeper Emilian Martinez celebrated what he called a Maracanazo, a remarkable win at the famous Rio stadium.
“I’m speechless,” he said. “I knew my dream would come true, and where better than the Maracanazo and giving the title to the best in the world and fulfilling his dream.”
Barcelona star Messi had a quiet game by his own standards and missed a golden chance with two minutes remaining when he appeared to stutter with only the goalkeeper to beat.
But the record books will show he finished the tournament’s top goalscorer with four goals and was elected joint best player along with Neymar.
Argentina edged a brutal and fractious affair thanks to Angel Di Maria’s goal after 22 minutes, the winger running on to Rodrigo De Paul’s through ball to lob Brazil goalkeeper Ederson with a first time finish.
“We fell short so many times, we dreamt so much about this, fought so hard,” said Di Maria, who was named man of the match.
“Many people said we wouldn’t manage it, we were criticised a lot. But we kept knocking at the door and kept going until today we knocked it down and entered.”
The final was the first match of the tournament, which was originally due to take place last year, to allow in fans as 7,800 – a tenth of the Maracana capacity – took their seats.
The victory was Argentina’s 15th Copa America triumph and means they draw level with Uruguay as the all-time leading winners.
“This is a very big title,” said Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni. “I hope that Argentines can enjoy it. The fans love the team unconditionally and I think they identify with this side that never drops its guard.”
Messi has been in superb form over the last few weeks, scoring four times – including two trademark free kicks – and setting up five goals, a tournament high.
The win brings his dismal run to an end and also caps a remarkable comeback.
Messi was so upset at losing to Chile on penalties in the Copa America final of 2016, exactly as he had done a year before, that he retired from international football.
He changed his mind a few weeks later and helped drag an inconsistent Argentina to the World Cup finals in Russia where once again they crashed out to eventual champions France in the last 16. The National