Hundreds of Argentinians have rallied in the pouring rain pleading for Lionel Messi’s return to the national football team after he unexpectedly quit following a loss in the regional Copa America final.
Messi, a five-time world player of the year, has played in three Copa America finals, in 2007, 2015, and 2016, as well as in the 2014 World Cup final, with Argentina losing every time. During the latest finals match with rival Chile the captain missed Argentina’s opening penalty in the shootout after the game ended 0-0 and was in tears sitting near the team dugout.
“I think this is it. It’s over for me on the team,” he said shortly after the match
But Argentinians, at the urging of public figures such as President Mauricio Macri and the football great Diego Maradona, gathered on Saturday evening around the Obelisco, a monument on one of the central avenues in Buenos Aires where fans traditionally celebrate sporting victories.
Banners were flown saying “No te vayas Lio”: Lio, don’t go.
Waving banners that lauded Messi in superlative terms, they begged the star to don the national squad’s blue and white stripes once again.
“There’s a saying that there’s a Messi every 500 million years and we’re enjoying that, so we have to be grateful that we live in this time,” said fan Santiago Bordero.
After Argentina’s loss against Chile in the final, which took place in New Jersey, Messi returned to Argentina and spent time in his native city of Rosario. He then went to the Bahamas on vacation, while many Argentinians awaited further statements.
Argentina’s national squad returns to action in September when it takes on traditional rival Uruguay in a qualifying stage match for the 2018 World Cup.