Despite the absence of Lionel Messi, and being down to 10 men on the field, Argentina were able to hold off Chile in the Copa América third place game with a 2-1 victory to take home bronze in the tournament. However, the Argentinian superstar was noticeably absent from the ensuing medal ceremony, despite his team finally vanquishing the foe that had knocked them out the last iterations of this competition. It wasn’t because the red card he received earlier in the game—his first in 14 years—kept him out, but rather because he was protesting the awful refereeing he believes his team has experienced throughout this campaign.
“We don’t have to be part of this corruption,” Messi said. “They have showed us a lack of respect throughout this tournament. Sadly, the corruption, the referees, they don’t allow people to enjoy football, they ruined it a bit. I think the cup is fixed for Brazil. I hope that the VAR and the referees have nothing to do in this final and that Peru can compete because they have the team to do so although I think it’s difficult.”
Messi’s experience with the officiating this tournament has been, let’s say, less than pleasant. He expressed justified frustration over the officials that presided over Argentina’s 2-0 loss to Brazil by calling it “bullshit,” and in the third place game against Chile, he was sent off for a minimal role in a minor scuffle with Chile’s Gary Medel.
But this level of anger is a new level, considering he’s outright accusing referees of going through these matches with a predetermined tournament champion in mind. Still, the Argentinian did not back down from his comments late Saturday, even though he understands he’s risking suspension and admits that what he said last time might have contributed to why the ref was so trigger happy towards him with a red card.
“Maybe what I said last time played a part today,” Messi told reporters. “A yellow card should have been enough for both players.”
As always, these kind of meltdowns can be chalked up to the fact that they’ve just become par for the course for the Barcelona star at international tournaments. Now 32, Messi has yet to win any significant hardware for his country so clearly this is a result of mouting frustration—even if his gripes do have some legitimacy in their basis. The next one should be scheduled for 2022, when he participates in what will likely be the last World Cup of his storied career.