Messi's moment to outrace time
A Copa America win for Messi and Co is the perfect launchpad for 2018 World Cup
CHILE v ARGENTINA
(Tomorrow, 4am, StarHub TV Ch 202)
Four days after leaving Paraguayan defenders tumbling over one another, Lionel Messi will carry the hopes of the whole of Argentina onto the Estadio Nacional pitch.
He will attempt to lead the Albiceleste past one final hurdle at the 2015 Copa America - Chile.
He knows better than to believe this is his moment.
Those moments have came and gone in his career, and Messi still doesn't know what it feels like to lift a trophy in senior national team colours.
The skipper's battle won't be merely against the Chileans tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Messi, 28, is racing against time. He is also fighting a curse.
For years, Argentinians cried for another Maradona.
But, when they finally found a worthy successor in Messi, the silverware still refuses to come.
The last time the senior team landed a major trophy was at the 1993 Copa America.
For the Barcelona man with four Champions League and seven Spanish La Liga titles under his belt, the international drought isn't the Messi way of life.
But he will definitely believe in his chances.
For he is the crown jewel of a formidable generation that compares with some of the very best Argentina have seen.
The confidence oozes from the back.
Nicolas Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta lend a steadying influence to a defence arguably the most tactically disciplined and organised in the tournament.
Javier Mascherano cleans up in the midfield area before them, leaving the more technically gifted to do their jobs without having to look over their shoulders.
And Argentina have a wealth of attacking talents.
The front three of Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria are the stuff of nightmares for opposing defences.
So loaded with football's artists are Argentina, that the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Erik Lamela are likely to bide their time on the bench for the final.
When in full flow, coach Gerardo Martino's charges move like a kaleidoscope of sky blue against lush green.
Undoubtedly, Martino has a gem of a squad. His job is to unlock the soul.
But Messi holds the key. He is the puppeteer who pulls the strings and dictates the beat of the team.
Only a victory can alleviate his and an entire country's anguish.
Argentina are due for a major triumph. If the 6-1 battering of Paraguay in Tuesday's semi-final was anything to go by, then they have a clear edge over the hosts.
Winning will repair the mental scars of years of failure, and wipe off the doubts that breed even more uncertainty.
But inherent in a South American conquest is something more significant.
It will signal the coming of age of this special generation (photo).
And lay the groundwork for the ultimate prize in three years' time - the World Cup in Russia.
This generation is desperate to win a title with the national team. As a team, we deserve to win something and it would mean so much after the World Cup last year where we came so close.
— Argentina striker Lionel Messi
ROMERO: NO REPEAT OF BRAZIL HEARTBREAK
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero (photo) wants to see Argentina go one better than they did at last year's World Cup by lifting the Copa America tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The Albiceleste will face tournament hosts Chile aiming to win a 15th continental title, which would see them equal the record held by Uruguay.
They will also be looking to avoid a repeat of the heartache which followed their defeat by Germany at the World Cup in Brazil.
Sampdoria goalkeeper Romero said: "Winning the cup is everything we want.
"We were close in the last World Cup, we broke our bad streak of losing in the quarter-finals and we were right there.
"We are a group of friends who are trying to do the best for our country.
"On Saturday, with God on our side, we will show everything we have been working for."
Argentina reached the final with a 6-1 rout of Paraguay but, despite their run, star forward Lionel Messi has managed just a single goal all tournament, although Romero is keen to play down that statistic.
He said: "I would like him to score but, if he provides three assists, as he did against Paraguay, we are going to raise him on our shoulders because it is the same thing."
Coach Gerardo Martino is also unconcerned by Messi's drought, telling Ole newspaper: "Leo has the capacity to be important in whatever way he wants.
"Who could think that his assists are not the equivalent of a goal?
"I see him happy, I do not see him worried about not netting. He does not need to be the top scorer to be happy."
Chile saw off Peru in the semi-finals and have reached the final four times before, the most recent appearance coming in 1987.
They have yet to win the title, however, and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo believes they will have no better chance than as tournament hosts.
"We are never afraid of other national teams. We respect them, but we do not fear them," the Barcelona player said.
"The chance is ours, and with our home fans in the stands that increases our chances of getting closer to the title."
However, Bravo feels Chile's hopes will be further boosted if club teammates Messi and Javier Mascherano are shut out of the match.
He said: "Our strength lies in our squad. We will try to ensure every member does his job and that means neutralising Messi. But not only him - Argentina's players are world class.
"We have to worry about all of them, not just Messi. Mascherano gives a lot of character to the squad. He is the true heart of the team, so I hope both of them have a bad game." - PA Sport.
This is not the World Cup but, even so, it’s the second most important tournament there is for us in this part of the world.
— Argentina coach Gerardo Martino
BY THE NUMBERS
75 per cent Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero has had a 75 per cent save percentage, just slightly better than his opposite number, Chile’s Claudio Bravo (73.3 per cent).
14 Argentina will join Uruguay as the most successful side in Copa America history if they beat Chile, with 14 titles. Chile have lost all their four final appearances.
13 The final pits the two highest-scoring teams in the tournament against each other - Chile have bagged 13 goals in five games while Argentina have scored 10 times.
4 Argentina have won the title four out of the six times that Chile have hosted the Copa America. Chile have never beaten Argentina in the Copa America.
0 If Lionel Messi wins the cup, he will have done what the two men often ranked above him as the best players ever - Pele and Diego Maradona - failed to do in their careers. - AFP