On Saturday, Argentina captain Lionel Messi will reach a personal milestone when he receives his 100th international cap against Jamaica. But the consummate winner will not let his own landmarks interfere with what is his one and only goal: take home a big trophy for the Albiceleste.
It all started on rather inauspicious terms for the best player in the world. Messi's international debut, in a friendly against Hungary on August 17, 2005, lasted all of one-and-a-half minutes. The teenage Barcelona sensation was thrown on the pitch by coach Jose Pekerman in the second half, recalls BBC Sport's Tim Vickery, only to be sent right back to the dressing room for a nonexistent elbow that led to a red card.
Messi was left in tears after his aborted introduction to the international game. But thankfully for Argentinian football, Pekerman defended and kept faith in his young prodigy, and the rest his history.
La Pulga is set to join a very exclusive club. Just four players in the long and illustrious history of the Argentina national football team have gone on to break the century mark for their country, a hint into the fierce competition for places throughout the years. Two of those figures, Javier Zanetti and Roberto Ayala (145 and 115 caps respectively), played in defence.
The other two, Diego Simeone and Javier Mascherano (106 and 113 caps respectively) have also been geared more toward protecting those at the back than trying to score goals—Mascherano being Simeone's successor as the general in the middle of the pitch.
Messi, then, becomes Argentina's first attacking centurion, reaching a milestone that neither Gabriel Batistuta, Diego Maradona, Ariel Ortega nor Hernan Crespo could manage.
It is a testament to Messi's importance to the Albiceleste. With 46 goals on international duty, he is already the nation's second-highest scorer of all time, and sooner or later he will pass Batigol to claim that record for himself.
Indeed, the Jamaica game could be the perfect time to boost that tally. The Reggae Boyz have been feisty opponents so far in their Copa America debut, but they are yet to face a rival of Argentina's stature. The Albiceleste will not pull any punches in their quest to take top spot in Group B, and the game could well be peppered with a few goals to mark Messi's special day.
The player himself, however, is typically looking further ahead. "I'm very happy to celebrate reaching 100 matches, I hope to be able to celebrate with more triumphs and one more time, for everyone, hold up the trophy after the 100 matches," he told Reuters in the buildup to the final group game (via Daily Mail).
"The truth is that I have lived through very nice experiences, and been in many situations which helped me to grow, to continue growing as a player, but sadly without a title."
There is little argument over that point. Messi's first 99 caps have included a trip to the Copa America final in 2007, and last year the same stage in Brazil's World Cup. Both of those games ended in defeat.
The Olympic Games of 2008 and the World Youth Championship of 2005 did bring international glory. But those medals that hang on Leo's overcrowded mantelpiece alongside the Champions Leagues, Ligas and Copas del Rey are not considered senior titles.
Argentina's first two games in this Copa have been hard-fought to the extreme, with a 2-2 draw against Paraguay followed by a nail-biting victory over holders Uruguay. But that is nothing out of the ordinary in the current tournament. None of the supposed favourites have shown themselves to be invincible.
Chile were held by a young Mexico team in a thrilling 3-3 tie that robbed the hosts of a perfect start. Fellow candidates Brazil and Colombia, meanwhile, have been far from showing their full potential, and both lie precariously on one win and a loss after the first two matches. The field is wide open, and there is no reason whatsoever that Gerardo Martino's men should not beat any of the teams competing this year.
The genius is still only 27, but every footballer knows that their career is ultimately finite. Messi will receive few better chances than this Copa America to finally break his silverware drought with the Albiceleste. All indications in Chile suggest that the captain will do everything in his power to make sure that his nation lifts the biggest prize come the final in July.