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Soccer Shocker: Lionel Messi Says He's Retiring From Argentina's National Team

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after losing 4-2 to Chile in penalty kicks during Sunday's Copa America final in New Jersey.
Julio Cortez
Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after losing 4-2 to Chile in penalty kicks during Sunday's Copa America final in New Jersey.

Lionel Messi says it's over. He's retiring from Argentina's national team.

After losing three previous Copa America finals, Lionel Messi on Sunday night had another chance to win. Argentina and Chile were locked in a scoreless tie, and the match would be decided by penalty kicks. Messi bent down to adjust the ball and backed up to get a running start. The five-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner licked his lip, gave the goalie a quick appraising glance, and sent a cannonball-like shot over the goal, missing for Argentina when it mattered most.

In a promo video before the game, Sports Illustrated called Messi the "greatest soccer player ever" and compared him to Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan. He has had a celebrated career with FC Barcelona in Spain. He's famous for breathtaking shots, often taken after a blur of footwork to get past defenders.

But aside from an Olympic gold in 2008, Messi has never been able to bring home a major international championship playing for his home country.

He was clearly devastated by Sunday night's 4-2 loss to Chile and the part he played in it. The BBC quoted Messi after the game as saying:

" 'For me, the national team is over,' he said after defeat by Chile in the Copa America final. 'I've done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.' ...

" 'It's been four finals, I tried,' added Messi, who made his debut for Argentina in 2005 and has played 113 times for his country.

" 'It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn't get it, so I think it's over.' ...

" 'It's very hard, but the decision is taken. Now I will not try more and there will be no going back.' "

That sounds pretty final. But maybe not. The BBC also quoted Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero saying he hoped Messi would "reflect" on his decision to retire and reconsider:

" 'I think he spoke while he was heated, because a beautiful opportunity escaped us,' said Romero. 'I can't imagine a national team without Messi.' "

Fans around the world are undoubtedly hoping the same thing. And the sports press is speculating that Messi's "retirement" might be short-lived:

The remarks by Messi followed reports that he'd been frustrated by mismanagement of Argentina's soccer team. When the team's chartered flight was delayed for several hours on its way to New Jersey for the final game, Messi posted on his Instagram account, "What a disaster the AFA is, for God's sake."

As if the stakes weren't already high enough for Messi and his team, Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona said before the match that they shouldn't bother coming back home if they didn't win. As Yahoo Sports puts it:

"Many fans believe that Messi cannot be considered as great as Maradona until he wins a major honor with his country like Maradona did in the 1986 World Cup."

Even if Messi does go through with his retirement from Argentina's national team, he will presumably continue to play for his club team Barcelona.

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NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.