Will Winning Copa America Change Lionel Messi's Legacy?

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Pedro Vilela / Stringer

The Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo debate can be tiresome to many with the constant back and forth discussions about which superstar is the greatest to ever play football, but the conversation is at least intriguing.

We’ve witnessed other greats grace the pitch throughout history like Pele and Diego Maradona, but what Messi and Ronaldo continue to do is astounding because they’ve been doing it simultaneously for over a decade-and-a-half.

Both players have accolades that would take a very long time to list out at the club level, but one of the deciding factors for many when it comes down to which player is better relies on international success.

Up until 2016 when Ronaldo and Portugal hoisted the European Championship trophy, the Juventus star hadn’t broken through on the international stage. During his debut year with Portugal in 2004, Ronaldo and Co. reached the Euros final, but fell to Greece in the title match.

Messi’s international escapades have been quite similar, however, Argentina is yet to win a major trophy under Messi’s watch despite reaching several finals throughout his storied career.

Trips to the Copa America finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016 resulted in losses for Argentina, while the South American side suffered a heartbreaking outcome in the 2014 World Cup final when Messi and Co. fell to Germany in extra time.

Fans, pundits and even players have very different definitions of how success should be measured, but collectively it’s common that people will say it’s a combination of club and international honors.

Messi and Argentina find themselves in yet another Copa America final in 2021, with a significant match against Brazil looming on Saturday.

Throughout this tournament, Messi has etched himself into exclusive company as the only player in the competition’s history to account for every goal at a single Copa America tournament. He scored four goals and assisted on five more, putting Argentina in prime position to win their first title in the competition since 1993.

Messi’s individual brilliance at this tournament should be more than enough to silence the doubters, but for many that won’t change until he captures a trophy for Argentina.

Maradona was able to do it for his country, albeit with one of the most controversial moments in football history aiding him and his Argentina team in 1986. Ronaldo was able to do it at the Euros with Portugal. Pele won multiple World Cups with a Brazil team widely regarded as one of the best of all time.

The simple fact is that expectations for the greatest players will always be higher, but a win on Saturday would certainly make the case that Messi has finally done enough internationally to silence those that cannot fathom him being on the same playing field as Ronaldo.

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