Lionel Messi is used to being No. 1 with Barcelona. Hours before his contract with the club was due to expire, he was getting that kind of feeling while wearing the Argentina shirt at Copa America.
The 34-year-old Messi has some of the best statistics so far at the South American championship. He capped the group stage on Monday with two goals and an assist in Argentina's 4-1 win over Bolivia.
Messi's contract with Barcelona ends on June 30 after 17 seasons. The Argentine forward won a record six Balon d'Or awards at the Catalan club, where he's the all-time leading scorer with 672 goals in 778 appearances. But he's yet to lift a major title with his national team. Messi leads the Copa America scoring list with three goals in four matches. He gave two assists, as many as Brazil's Neymar.
Sports data site SofaScore places him on top in the tournament so far in successful dribbles (21), shots on target (10), total duels won (40) and goals from outside of the box (2).
There was some Messi magic involved in the long-range goals, including his curling free kick in the 1-1 draw with Chile and his perfectly-timed lob over Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe on Tuesday. That win coincided with his Argentine record 148th international appearance.
Argentina's captain helped Barcelona win four Champions League titles and 10 Spanish league titles, among many other trophies. He has left space in his trophy cabinet. Before Copa America began, Messi tried to distance himself from the debate on whether he will stay at Barcelona or not.
“I am always available to my national team. My biggest dream is to win a title with this (Argentina) shirt,” Messi told a news conference. “I was very close many times. It didn't happen, but I will keep trying. I will always fight for this dream.”
The next step is a quarterfinal against Ecuador. A win will set up a semifinal match against Colombia or Uruguay. Defending champion Brazil could then be the last hurdle for Messi's aspirations of finishing No. 1 after the July 10 final at the Maracana Stadium.