The Copa American final match between Argentina and Chile was a riveting one. Both teams had to deal with players being ejected with red cards and thus were playing with one man down. It seemed as though the physicality of the game was cranked up to a 10 as there was plenty of contact during the match...and of course lots of acting in regards to said contact as is the custom in soccer (or fútbol).
No one team ever established themselves as the more dominant team. The clock continued to tick. At the end of regulation, after 90 minutes of play, the score was tied 0-0. The players were tired, but two more 15 minute periods awaited them.
The extra time was sloppy. The players were beyond tired and it was apparent. What are easy passes for the players to make on a consistent basis were no longer reaching their targets. When they did reach their destination, the receiving player's first touch was not as crisp and controlled as it was earlier in the match. The game had shifted to emphasize more of the mental front than the physical one.
Extra time expired, and now the match moved to penalty kicks. Simple format: five players from each team get a one-on-one shot with the goalie. The team that has more goals after the five players have gone wins.
In penalty kicks, you have your best payer go first. It is a strategy meant to give the players that follow momentum and confidence. The mentality is that you simply follow the example of your star player and put the ball in the back of the net.
Chile was up first. They sent their headliner. His attempt was covered up by the goalie from Argentina. The door was wide open for Argentina to take the early lead. Their star player is considered by some as the best player in the world, Leonel Messi. He is truly a remarkable player to watch in action.
Messi is unsuccessful in his attempt. It is worse than that however as he did not even hit his target. When a goal keeper covers up a penalty kick, he simply guessed right. When the player kicking the ball doesn't even put the ball near the goal however, that is considered a huge mistake. The best player in the world had just committed this error.
Chile went on to win the match and the overall title. The cameras focused on Messi post match. He looked completely distraught. He looked shocked, wondering what had just happened. I'm sure he felt as though he had let his team down as its captain and best player.
I had a young lady comment on my Facebook asking how Messi would recover from this event. This is a great question. If an event like this is not handled properly by the athlete it could send their careers on a nasty path. Let's look at how to take something like this on because chances are most athletes will face a failure like this at some point.
First off, Leonel Messi needs to realize that this one moment in hi career does not define him. If you look at what Messi has been able to do over his career, you will quickly see that he has enjoyed many successes. This is not enough however to get the player over the disappointment.
In the grander scheme of things, Messi needs to come to grips with the fact that he is more than a soccer player. Although this is his profession, it will not always be, and he needs to understand that when it is all said and done he will be viewed as more than just Leonel Messi the soccer player. Athletes that are not able to create a strong sense of identity outside of their sport will often times ebb and flow with the successes and shortcomings in their performance.
Lastly, Messi just needs to get back to his normal routine. I assure you that a player of his stature sets goals and he has something else that he is now looking to accomplish. Does it sting that one of his objectives was not met in winning the Cope America title? I am sure that it does, but I am also sure that Messi understands that you cannot win them all and that events like the one he experienced do not escape even the best players in the world.
If handled correctly, Messi can emerge from this defeat a better soccer player than when he began that match. Messi can look back on that game and learn how to do better the next time. He can get back to the process of improving his skills and use his missed penalty kick as a reminder that no one is immune from failure. Champions understand that we all need to fail every once in a while.