08 de diciembre de 2019
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The New Messi: A protester and a leader

Sao Paulo, Jul 7 (efe-epa).- A new Lionel Messi emerged from the ashes of the 2019 Copa America.

 Argentine Lionel Messi argues with the referee, during the 2019 Copa America third place playoff against Chile, at Arena Corinthians Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil July 6, 2019. EPA-EFE/Sebastiao Moreira

Argentine Lionel Messi argues with the referee, during the 2019 Copa America third place playoff against Chile, at Arena Corinthians Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil July 6, 2019. EPA-EFE/Sebastiao Moreira

Sao Paulo, Jul 7 (efe-epa).- A new Lionel Messi emerged from the ashes of the 2019 Copa America.

The Argentine superstar has not stood out due to his performance or goals, yet this time around a protester has emerged, unseen in the past.

Messi leaves Brazil after his 5th Copa America appearance, which saw him score just once from the 12-yard spot against Paraguay in the second round-robin match.

Argentina's 26-year title drought continues, although the team did not leave the tournament empty handed, having clinched the bronze medal.

The chances of winning the tournament, however, are getting slim for the 32-year-old Messi, who has five Ballon d'Or awards under his belt.

Messi has lost three Copa America finals - 2007, 2015 and 2016 - and failed to deliver in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

Yet, there is now a difference in that during Argentina's 2019 Copa America run Messi has acted like a leader on and off the pitch, defending his fellow players and team in a way that he never has before.

Argentina's captain went before journalists to defend the national team, unlike when he plays for Barcelona, when he rarely, if ever, gives press conferences after matches.

The Rosario-born Messi has always been one to avoid controversy, yet now he seems to be fed up and at the Copa America he shockingly criticized Conmebol, the performance of the referees and the alleged influence Brazil has within the South American federation.

The first signs of Messi's transformation emerged in the opening match, in which Colombia beat Argentina 2-0.

The team captain spent nearly 40 minutes with the press trying to explain the defeat.

Against Paraguay, he rescued his team by delivering from the 12-yard spot in a 1-1 draw that kept Argentina's hopes alive.

"We are in a complicated situation. But we have to hold our heads up and believe in ourselves," Messi said after the Paraguay match.

From that point onward, the performance of Argentina, led by coach Lionel Scaloni, improved and Messi started to criticize the organizers over the condition of the pitch, for a start.

"All the pitches we play on are very bad. It is difficult to play that way," he said after prevailing over Qatar 2-0 at Porto Alegre's Arena do Gremio to secure a quarterfinal berth.

After the 2-0 win over Venezuela in the quarters, he said he was optimistic ahead of the semifinal clash against Brazil, but Argentina lost to its arch-rival.

Messi then criticized the alleged bias in favor of the hosts and the fact that the referees did not consult the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) during critical points of the Brazil-Argentina clash.

"Brazil was the host and at the present time they manage a lot in Conmebol and it becomes complicated," Messi said after the match.

The Argentine Soccer Federation, for its part, asked Conmebol for an explanation as to why the VAR was not consulted on two occasions when Argentina claimed a penalty had been committed.

In the battle for the bronze medal against Chile, Messi allowed himself to be provoked by Chilean captain Gary Medel after the two bumped into each other while chasing down a ball that went out of bounds.

The two captains got in each other's faces amid shoving and head butts. Paraguayan referee Mario Diaz de Vivar decided in the 37th minute to send off both Medel and Messi, marking just the second time in Messi's illustrious career that he has been ejected from the pitch.

The decision proved to be an unpopular one, with the crowd at Arena Corinthians raining boos down on Diaz de Vivar at the end of the first half.

"I did not want to be part of this corruption, we shouldn't have to be part of this disrespect we suffered during the Copa America," Messi said afterward, suggesting later in the mixed zone that the title has been prepared this year in advance for Brazil to win.

Conmebol, for its part, issued a statement that although it did not name Messi, said his remarks were unfounded and unacceptable accusations.

The Copa America exit marks the end of the 2018-2019 season for Messi, who is still looking for his maiden title with Argentina. EFE-EPA

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