By Samindra Kunti in Rio de Janeiro
July 7 – Argentina star Lionel Messi slammed Brazil and Conmebol for “corruption” after enduring a torrid end to the Copa America. He boycotted the medal ceremony in the third-place match to drive home his point.
Hosts Brazil eliminated Messi and Argentina from the tournament in a classic South American tussle in the semi-finals last Wednesday. The result was another dent to Messi’s longstanding desire to win silverware with Argentina, but on Saturday things took a turn for the worse when he was sent off against Chile in the bronze medal match.
He was red carded after Chilean midfielder Gary Medel body-checked the diminutive Argentinean. The two players were ejected, but the decision was very harsh on Messi. In turn, he boycotted the medal ceremony after the 2-1 win over Chile, who defeated Argentina in the previous two Copa America.
Messi didn’t mince any words later. “There was lack of respect toward us during this Copa América,” he said. “We could have done better, but they didn’t let us make it to the final. Corruption and the referees are not letting the fans enjoy football. This is ruining football.”
Those remarks followed his complaints after the elimination by Brazil when he implied in his comments that Brazil wielded more power at Conmebol and thus in charge of South American football. “Maybe what I said last time played a part today,” Messi said. “A yellow card should have been enough for both players.”
He rejected the notion that he was out of line and that he might be suspended for his remarks, claiming that “the truth needed to be told.”
Conmebol didn’t take Messi’s comments lightly and condemned the Argentinean, releasing a statement calling the remarks “unacceptable” and “baseless accusations”.
“In football, sometimes you lose and sometimes you win,” said the statement. ”One of the fundamental pillars of fair play is to accept the results and the refereeing decisions with respect.”
Brazil coach Tite also wasn’t best pleased with Messi’s words. Tite had lavished praise on Messi before the semi-finals, referring to the Argentinean as the extra-terrestrial, but his tone was distinctly different after Sunday’s final. ”He has to have more respect and needs to accept when he loses,” said Tite.
The saga is another PR nightmare for local organisers and Conmebol, who have been heavily criticized throughout the tournament for bad organization, costly ticket prices, empty stadiums, lengthy VAR delays and poor pitches.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1563368484labto1563368484ofdlr1563368484owedi1563368484sni@o1563368484fni1563368484