Messi and the 10 Greatest South Americans Never to Lift the Copa America
After two abortive attempts on the Copa America, Lionel Messi will be hoping this June and July it is third time lucky for him and Argentina. Having won everything going for Barcelona, the record-breaking forward is now desperate to add a first senior trophy in national colours to his cabinet.
Success in the South American competition, however, is never straightforward. The continent has long been a hotbed of talent, with fierce matches and hazardous tests guaranteed on the way to the trophy. Perhaps that explains why many of the best players in the world never got their hands on football's oldest ongoing national tournament.
From Garrincha to Zico and Alberto Spencer to Diego Maradona and Messi himself, these are the most talented footballers who never achieved glory in 99 years of South American Cup and Copa America competition.
10. Lionel Messi
Unlike the rest of his illustrious peers on this list, Lionel Messi still has time to break the Copa America hoo-doo. The Chile tournament will be his third attempt at lifting the South American title, after bids in Venezuela and on home soil ended in failure.
In 2007, an Argentina team inspired by a teenage Messi and a star-studded line-up raced to the final. With Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez, Juan Roman Riquelme and Pablo Aimar amongst the talents, the Albiceleste smashed 16 goals in just five games to set up a date with Brazil, who shocked the runaway favourites with a 3-0 drubbing masterminded by coach Dunga and his efficient charges.
Four years ago Messi and his men were again among the favourites. But Sergio Batista's men never got going and, after a dull 1-1 draw against Uruguay in the quarter-finals Carlos Tevez missed the final penalty to send the Albiceleste out.
9. Alberto Spencer
Born in Ecuador to a Jamaican father but one of the heroes of Uruguayan football in its golden age, Alberto Spencer was a goal-scorer almost without parallel in the 1960s. His bullet headers earned Penarol seven national championships, three Copas Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cups in a glory-laden club career.
In national colours, however, it was a different story. Ecuador was still a minnow in South American football, an also-ran alongside giants Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Spencer's only participation in the then-South American Championship came in bizarre circumstances, as Ecuador hosted the tournament's second running in 1959.
Argentina had triumphed on home soil earlier in the year, but in the 'Extraordinary' sequel it was Uruguay that came out on top. Spencer, meanwhile, scored just once as Ecuador finished fourth out of five participants.
8. Daniel Passarella
Nicknamed the Kaiser for his imperious defending style during the 1970s and 80s, Daniel Passarella was a peerless member of the Argentina team. Although the River Plate legend did not play in the 1986 World Cup, his presence in the squad means that he is the only Albiceleste man in history to lift the famous trophy on two occasions.
The Copa America, however, remained elusive for the man who for some time was the highest-scoring defender in the history of the game. Passarella played just one tournament for his nation, in 1979, and saw Argentina go out at the group stage despite top scoring with two.
7. Alvaro Recoba
While World Cup glory has not been forthcoming since that incredible upset of Brazil back in 1950, Uruguay have always held their own come the Copa America. With 15 victories the Celeste boast a better record in the competition than either Brazil or Argentina, and the nation is the current holder thanks to success in 2011.
The incomparable playmaker Alvaro Recoba, however, had the misfortune of coming through during a lull in the quality of Uruguayan football. El Chino carried the team for years, but in two Copa America campaigns the best he could muster was a fourth place in 2007.
It is now common football knowledge that Socrates and the rest of Tele Santana's incredibly gifted class of 1982 were the greatest side never to win the World Cup. The bearded midfielder suffered the injustice of ending his international career with the trophy cabinet almost bare, unthinkable for a player of such quality.
In 1979 the Brazil newcomer scored three to top score over the tournament for the Selecao. But his side went out in a shock semi-final defeat to Paraguay, who went on to down Chile in the final for just a second Copa America winners' medal.
Four years later Brazil and Socrates also experienced agony. This time Paraguay were downed on away goals in the semis, but Enzo Francescoli's Uruguay were too strong and prevailed 3-1 on aggregate. So near, yet so far; the story of the wonderful midfielder's life in international football.
4. Mario Kempes
In 1978 Mario Kempes was the undisputed hero of Argentina's World Cup triumph. The Valencia was the only man from outside the local league picked by Cesar Luis Menotti, but the gamble paid off as his six goals, all scored in the decisive late rounds, led the Albiceleste to their first title.
But that golden legacy did not translate to glory in the South American competition. In truth, Kempes' Copa America career was rather fleeting. The clash in the 1970s and 80s with the European football calendar meant that the striker's only tournament came in 1975, where he netted twice in an 11-0 destruction of Venezuela but failed to get out of the group stages.
In club football and as part of a glorious Flamengo team of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Zico won almost everything there is to win. The trophies flowed for the Fla, at state, national, continental and world level, capped by the 3-0 thrashing of mighty Liverpool in 1981 for the Intercontinental Cup.
At international level, meanwhile, Zico shared the same affliction as his former team-mate Socrates: being a member of the best team never to win a major title. The semi-friendly Atlantic Trophy and Copa Roca in 1976 were the only silverware the star got his hands on with the Selecao, as the Copa America stayed out of his grasp.
The bow-legged master of the dribble Garrincha lies only behind Pele in Brazil's national pantheon of football legends. Back-to-back World Cups in 1958 and 1962 briefly placed the tricky winger at the top of the sporting world, but perhaps in the manner of a prize-fighter who binges between main events, the South American Championship never saw the best of Mane.
Garrincha's career in the tournament was restricted to just four games in the 1959 edition, having seen Dorval preferred at first on the right wing. Brazil were one of two unbeaten teams in the league format, but lost out on first place to Argentina by virtue of just one point.
Three World Cups, and not a single victory in the Copa America. It is perhaps not that surprising to see Pele's lack of success in the South American competition, given that the legendary Brazilian forward only took part in one tournament over the course of his illustrious life in the game.
In 1959 O Rei was a companion of Garrincha and the rest of the wonderful squad which had lifted the World Cup a year before, only to lose out to an equally talented Argentina. It was the last time Pele would compete amongst his continental peers.
In the intervening years Brazil either sent young squads to the sometimes chaotic Copa, or did not enter altogether. For Pele and Santos the money-spinning tours of that age were far more worthwhile than matches against Argentina and Uruguay, meaning the record-breaking forward was left without the chance to win the prize.
1. Diego Maradona
Few players have left as great a mark on football as the little Argentine who first drove the England team wild with rage in the 1986 World Cup, and minutes later left them reeling with one of the greatest goals the tournament has ever seen. Diego Armando Maradona was the last Albiceleste captain to win the World Cup, but he never experienced the same glory in South America.
Maradona was still on his self-imposed exile from the national team in 1993, the last time Argentina won a major senior title with the Copa America of that year. The closest the Pibe de Oro came to glory was one year after the World Cup in 1987, the first showcase of that electric partnership with Claudio Caniggia.
The brilliant No. 10 netted three in that Copa, with El Pajarito adding a further two. But the run was cut short by Uruguay, who took down the world champions in River's Monumental stadium and went on to lift their 13th title.