At the end of Sunday’s Copa America final, Argentinians received three shocks in a row: First, Lionel Messi, widely regarded as the world’s best soccer player, missed the net on a crucial penalty kick, then his favored side lost the championship game to Chile. The third shock came when a disconsolate Messi indicated immediately after the contest that he was done playing for Argentina.
There’s nothing that can be done about the first two events. Messi missed, and Argentina lost to Chile for the second straight year. However, many in the soccer-obsessed country are determined to do something about the third, mounting a campaign featuring the slogan, “No te vayas Lio” — “Dont go, Lio.”
Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, and the mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, both used the slogan as a hashtag in tweeting out support for Messi. Even Diego Maradona, the god-like figure who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title and has been critical of Messi in the past, said that the 29-year-old should stay with the team.
“Messi has to stay because he will reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia in conditions to become world champion,” Maradona added. “The lads have to be supported more to help him take the team forward.”
“The truth is that it’s good fortune, a joy, a gift from God to have the best player in the world in a country like ours that is so football-crazy,” said Macri, a former president of Argentine club Boca Juniors (via the Associated Press).
“It is difficult in this moment to do any sort of analysis,” Messi said after Sunday’s game. “In the locker room, I thought the national team is not for me. It’s what I feel right now. It’s a great sadness that it happened to me again.
“I missed a penalty kick that was very important,” the five-time Ballon D’Or winner continued. “It’s for the good of everybody. It wasn’t enough just to get to the final and not win. I’ve tried very hard to be champion with Argentina. It hasn’t happened. I am not able to do it.”
Big-name figures in Argentina aren’t the only ones pleading with Messi to reconsider his apparent position. Dozens waited in the rain to greet the national team when it returned to home following the Copa final, with some chanting (via the AP), ”Messi is not leaving!” Many thousands more are expected to attend a “No te vayas Lio” rally Saturday in Buenos Aires.
Then there was the young boy who broke into tears when asked if he had a message for Messi. Video of his emotional reaction (“I don’t want him to go … everybody makes mistakes”) went viral (warning: snot bubbles):
Messi is zero for four with Argentina in major tournament finals, including the past three years. In addition to the two straight Copa losses to Chile (both on penalty kicks), the country lost to Germany for the 2014 World Cup, and fell to Brazil in the 2007 Copa final.