Copa America Centenario: Messi's best chance for immortality?


No Neymar, title holders Chile struggling and doubts over Luis Suarez's fitness. Will captain Lionel Messi have a better opportunity to leave his legacy on Argentina and international football?

As the forthcoming Copa America Centenario gets set to kick off on Friday, there are absolutely no doubts about Messi's standing in the modern game, at club level at least.

The record-breaking five-time Ballon d'Or winner has collected 28 trophies during his time with Barcelona, while his overall count stands at 30 - thanks to Olympic gold and a successful World Youth Championship in 2005 - which is one clear of football great Pele following the Catalan club's Copa del Rey triumph in May.

But there have always been criticisms, among Argentina supporters anyway, that the Rosario-born 28-year-old has not delivered on the international stage compared to two of the game's greatest ever players, Pele and Diego Maradona.

Separating Messi from Pele and Maradona is the fact that the latter two were victorious with their countries.

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil, while Maradona helped Argentina to glory in 1986.

Compare that to Messi, who is a two-time Copa America runner-up and a 2014 World Cup finalist as pressure builds on the 107-cap veteran to end Argentina's 23-year wait for an international trophy of any sort with a 15th continental crown.

Wearing the captain's armband, Messi, though, might not get a better chance to stake his claim for immortality.

Brazil will be without captain and the country's fifth highest goalscorer Neymar for the centenary tournament in the United States, after Messi's Barca team-mate opted to compete at the Olympic Games on home soil in August instead.

Defending champions Chile - who upstaged Argentina in last year's final - have struggled to reach their lofty heights since lifting the Copa trophy 12 months ago, with a disappointing friendly defeat to Jamaica following an unconvincing start to World Cup qualifying sparking fears Alexis Sanchez and Co. may have peaked.

Add to that the fact another one of Messi's clubmen, Suarez, is facing a race against time to be fit for the start of Uruguay's Copa campaign. The Barca forward was in tears as he hobbled from the field after suffering a hamstring injury in the team's Copa del Rey victory over Sevilla.

So after three near misses, the centenary tournament might just see Messi crowned the official king of football.