Having come under fire in certain quarters of the Argentinian media after 6 July’s 0-0 draw against Colombia, the pressure was on Lionel Messi to turn on the style in the host nation’s final Group A game at the Copa America. And with the boos of the fans following the clash with Los Cafeteros still ringing in the players' ears, the FC Barcelona superstar did not disappoint against Costa Rica.
Crucially, even prior to yesterday’s encounter in Cordoba, the supporters packing the Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes gave the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or winner a string of rousing ovations – a gesture which appeared to give the No10 a welcome confidence boost. Despite failing to break a drought of two years and three months without a competitive goal for La Albiceleste, Messi was at the heart of virtually all his team’s attacks and created no fewer than seven or eight clear goalscoring chances for his colleagues.
“I’d like to thank the people of Cordoba for how they treated us. I particularly needed that show of affection,” said El Pulga, who supplied assists for goals from Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria in a 3-0 win.
“It really gave us a boost because we hadn’t been in good form,” added the Barça forward, voted man of the match by users on the official Copa America 2011 website. “We started the tournament badly but I want to tell the fans that this’ll be a different Copa from now on. We, more than anybody, want the best for Argentina.”
El Kun thriving at Messi’s side
It was back in 2005 that Messi burst onto the global football scene with his inspirational displays in Argentina’s triumph at that year’s edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Netherlands. At the time, El Kun Aguero was also beginning to show flashes of his immense ability when used as a second-half impact sub for that young Albiceleste side.
“Everyone who plays the game knows how important Lio is to us, and we wanted him to feel good tonight,” said Aguero, who has been firm friends with Messi for many years. “Personally, I always try and get the ball to him. In fact, with the talent he has, you can’t afford not to pass to him. He’s a vitally important player,” added the Atletico de Madrid man, the Copa’s three-goal leading scorer so far.
Starting his first game of the competition for coach Sergio Batista’s team, El Kun found the net twice in one of his finest displays for Argentina’s senior side, though he preferred to focus on his friend’s resurgence: “Everyone knows that we’re great mates off the pitch, but I want to keep connecting with him on the field too.
“Any player would love to have the chance to link up with Lionel and I have that luxury, so I couldn’t ask for any more,” concluded Aguero, whose brace should cement him a starting berth alongside Messi in Argentina’s quarter-final on Saturday 16 July. And with this exceptional duo now clicking into gear, can La Albiceleste finally end a major-trophy drought spanning all the way back to 1993?