Lionel Messi has announced his retirement from international football. The decision follows the Barcelona star missing a penalty in the Copa America final shootout against Chile, as Argentina lost to the boys from the Estadio Nacional for the second consecutive tournament.
Messi's career with La Albiceleste had a promising start, with him leading his side to the Under-20 World Cup in 2005 and the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner has failed to replicate his Barcelona success at international level, despite becoming Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer. He passed Gabriel "Batigol" Batistuta's tally with a semi-final goal against the United States just days ago.
With two years still to go before the 2018 World Cup, some have predicted Messi will backtrack from his comments. Many have suggested that he cannot be seen as the Greatest of All-Time (along with Pele and Maradona) if he does not lead his nation to a global tournament success. Whatever the case, IBTimes UK looks at some of the key moments in Messi's international career to see why he has given up at such a relatively young age.
1. Debut against Hungary
Messi's debut for Argentina, in a 2-1 victory over Hungary in August 2005, was the furthest thing from a dream start possible.
The Barcelona starlet came on as a second-half substitute to replace Lisandro Lopez, but his appearance barely lasted 30 seconds. Following his first touch he was fouled by Vilmos Vanczak. A subsequent angry reaction from the diminutive talent earned him a straight red card – a dark foreshadowing of the turbulent path his national career would take.
2. Copa America 2007
With Messi's participation in the 2006 World Cup sporadic due to his young age, the 2007 Copa America was seen as his first chance to star in a major international tournament.
Argentina were still built around Juan Roman Riquelme, but Messi did not disappoint. He provided three assists in six games and scored two goals, including a sensational chip against Mexico to help his country reach the final. However, he experienced heartbreak in that match, losing 3-0 to long-time arch-rivals Brazil.
3. World Cup 2010
The 2010 World Cup was meant to be a defining moment in Messi's international career. He was still only 22, but was about to win his second Ballon d'Or, having served as leader of Pep Guardiola's all-conquering 2008-09 Barcelona team.
Messi was tipped to finally claim the crown as the new Maradona, with the hero of the 1986 World Cup serving as national team manager. However, the Barcelona star failed to cope with the pressure heaped upon him and scored no goals in a tournament that ended with a 4-0 thrashing by Germany in the quarter-finals.
4. Copa America 2011
The 2011 Copa America was meant to heal the wounds of the disastrous World Cup campaign one year prior. Hosted in Argentina, Messi arrived to his homeland just weeks after clinching the Champions League and La Liga double with Barcelona.
However, yet again Argentina failed to dazzle. Sergio Batista's side were eliminated in a quarter-final shootout courtesy of Uruguay, with Carlos Tevez missing the decisive penalty.
5. World Cup 2014
The 2014 World Cup was arguably the personal nadir of Messi's career. Following a rare trophyless season at Barcelona under Gerardo Martino, his start to the tournament in Brazil was a promising one, scoring four goals in three group-stage games.
However, seemingly suffering from fitness and injury issues, Messi failed to score in a single other game as Argentina reached the final, where they were seen off with little difficulty by Germany.
6. Copa America 2015
Messi found his best form at Barcelona again in 2014-15, forming a lethal trio with Luis Suarez and Neymar to lead his side to another treble. Yet again, though, he had a summer to forget. Despite scoring just once in six matches, he found himself in the final against Chile. However, defeat on penalties loomed, a punishment that was to be repeated just one year later, leading Messi to seemingly hang his boots up on the international stage for the final time.