BUENOS AIRES: Argentines begged Lionel Messi on Monday not to abandon the national team before the 2018 World Cup after he tearfully announced his retirement in frustration at another last-gasp international defeat.
As Chileans danced in the streets and honked their horns to hail their team’s victory by penalties in the Copa American Centenario, the rainy streets of Buenos Aires were deserted.
Apart from the humiliation of being beaten on penalties for a second time by their neighbors, they were gutted at the news of what online wags were calling “LeoMexit” — Messi’s announced retirement from international service.
A hashtag in Spanish reading “Don’t Go, Leo” spread on Twitter in the hours after the 29-year-old star striker said he was quitting the squad.
“Don’t go,” echoed the popular sports newspaper Ole in its front-page headline.
Messi left the pitch in tears having missed a penalty in Argentina’s 4-2 loss in the final shoot-out.
It was the fourth time he had lost the final of a big tournament with Argentina and the third in a row after defeat by Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and Chile in last year’s Copa America.
“It is really unfair. Messi played well. It was the coach’s mistake to field injured players,” said Ricardo Miranda, 47, a passerby in a rainy Buenos Aires on Monday morning.
As for the star striker, “He will not leave — you will see,” Miranda added.
Some media blamed the players however for failing to land a killer blow in the final after an impressive Copa campaign.
Others branded Argentina’s 23-year drought of international titles a “curse”.
“The worst thing about this situation is that no other player was able to take advantage of the talent of the best player on the planet to bring Argentine football home from exile,” wrote leading newspaper Clarin.
Other angry web users branded their team “losers” and “feeble”.
– Red-hot Chile –
Chileans meanwhile celebrated their second Copa America triumph in a row after last year’s win on home soil — also by penalties over Argentina.
Fans in red team shirts poured out of bars into the streets cheering and weeping with joy after Francisco Silva scored the winning penalty.
“Chi, chi, chi… le, le, le!” they yelled as the party stretched into the early hours of Monday.
Chile may not share the footballing heritage of its World Cup-winning neighbor Argentina. But it is enjoying a golden generation of players such as Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich.
“We are so happy at all this passion that our Chilean team has given us recently,” said one reveler in Santiago, Edison Tapia.
The television screens showed a devastated Messi with head bowed after missing his penalty at Sunday’s game in the United States.
For Chilean fans, their victory was all the greater for being against the Barcelona player widely rated the best on Earth and one of the best ever.
“Our team are 11 warriors, against the best player in the world, Lion Messi,” said jubilant Chile supporter Juan La Barrera.
“I do not deny that he is the best. But my team is double champion of America!”