Messi and Argentina Beat Brazil to Win the Copa América

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Lionel Messi finally ticked the last empty box in his glittering soccer career on Saturday night, leading Argentina past host Brazil, 1-0, in the final of the Copa América in Rio de Janeiro.

The trophy was Messi’s first with Argentina after a string of painful, agonizing, maddening failures, including perhaps the most painful defeat of his career — against Germany in the World Cup final — in the same stadium, Rio’s hulking Maracana, in 2014.

When the whistle blew to end the final, Messi — his relief palpable — dropped to his knees and was surrounded by his teammates, who were soon lifting him and tossing him in the air.

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In more than a decade at the top of his sport, Messi, 34, had won nearly every soccer honor imaginable with his Spanish club team, Barcelona: every award, every accolade, every cup and every championship and every trophy.

And year after painful year, he had failed to win a thing with Argentina.

Until Saturday.

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His friend Angel Di María delivered the prize at last, putting Argentina ahead in the 22nd minute after coolly collecting a long cross-field pass to the right wing from the deep-lying midfielder Rodrigo De Paul. Controlling the ball on the bounce with a single deft touch with his left foot after it skipped past the Brazil left back Renan Lodi, Di María then settled himself and — lifting the ball with the same foot on the rise off its next bounce — sent a shot over Brazil’s goalkeeper, Ederson, that landed softly in the back of Brazil’s next.

As Messi and the rest of Argentina’s team raced to celebrate with Di María, the Brazilians stood, stunned. The goal was only the third they had allowed in the tournament.

The game was the feisty, fiery affair everyone expected from the two biggest powers in South America; the Brazilian star Neymar had a six-inch piece of his shorts torn away in the first half, and Messi dove in with a rare scissoring sideline tackle at one point.

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Chasing the game, Brazil sent on a wave of attackers after halftime: Roberto Firmino came on at the break and was followed, later, by Vinicius Júnior and Gabriel Barbosa, as Brazil pressed for the tying goal.

Richarlison thought he tied the score in the 52nd minute when he ran on to a lead ball from Lucas Paqueta and slotted home a low shot. But replays showed that he had broken a split-second early, and the goal was disallowed for offside.

Two minutes later he was in again, onside this time, but his shot was stopped at close range and pushed aside by Argentina’s goalkeeper, Emiliano Martínez.

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The chances kept coming, on both sides — even Messi stunningly blew a one-on-one in the goal mouth late in the game — but as the minutes ticked away, and as the tackles got rougher and the dives and the pleas for foul calls more emphatic, the score did not change.

Messi was, at last, a champion in Argentina’s blue and white.

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