EAST RUTHERFORD (New Jersey) • Sergio Aguero and other Argentina players could follow the lead of captain Lionel Messi and retire from international football after losing the final of the Copa America on penalties to Chile for the second straight year.
The 29-year-old Messi, who sent the first spot-kick in the shoot-out over the bar, announced his decision shortly after the game in New Jersey on Sunday, which ended 0-0 after extra time.
"The likelihood is that Messi is not the only one that will leave the national team," Aguero, who lost his third final with Argentina, told Ole newspaper. "There are several players like me that are evaluating whether or not to continue."
The Manchester City striker, who replaced Gonzalo Higuain in the 70th minute, was disappointed by the senior national side's failure to end their 23-year trophy drought.
"One doesn't want to think about it but at times, there are things that happen and the thought (of retiring) comes into your mind," said Aguero, who won an Olympic gold with the Under-23 team in 2008.
I get annoyed when they tell us, 'Put in more effort, you don't feel the shirt.' We were lucky enough to get to the final of the World Cup and the Copa America and it seems like we didn't do anything. We got to two finals. We didn't win, what can you do? We got to the final, we didn't lose in the last 16.
LIONEL MESSI, in a recent riposte to criticism from Argentina fans.
Messi's Argentina milestones
• Led Argentina to the title at the 2005 World Youth Championship, scoring two penalties in a 2-1 victory over Nigeria in the final.
• Made his debut for the senior side in a friendly against Hungary in August 2005 but was sent off less than a minute after coming on as a substitute for elbowing an opponent.
• Played only a bit-part role at the 2006 World Cup. Argentina were knocked out in the quarter-finals by hosts Germany after a penalty shoot-out.
• Led Argentina to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
• Part of the Argentina side coached by Diego Maradona that was beaten 4-0 by Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup. Messi failed to score and struggled to find his best form.
• Captained Argentina to the final of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they lost 0-1 to Germany. Messi, who scored four goals, won the Golden Ball award for the tournament's best player.
• Played his second Copa America final for Argentina in Chile last year, losing the final on penalties to the host nation.
• Set a record of 55 goals for Argentina when he scored against the United States in the semi-finals.
• Was on the losing side again after missing the first spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out defeat by Chile in the centenary final and said he will be retiring from internationals.
Argentina's goalkeeper Sergio Romero hoped Messi would reconsider but in hindsight there were plenty of clues the Argentinian superstar would call time on his career sooner rather than later.
While startling, the suddenness of Messi's departure - assuming it is for good - begins to make sense when the context of his decision is taken into consideration.
For most of the last decade, he has shouldered the burden of expectation from a country craving its first major tournament success since the 1993 Copa America.
The flipside is that when the disappointments come, he has often been the lightning rod for criticism.
Though the majority of Argentinian fans remain squarely in Messi's corner, his critics invariably contrast his success with Barcelona with his inability to lead Argentina to international glory.
Messi had shown signs of growing increasingly weary of the criticism following Argentina's defeat in last year's Copa America final, notably irritated by the suggestion he was anything other than committed to the national cause.
"I get annoyed when they tell us 'Put in more effort, you don't feel the shirt'," he told Argentinian network TyC Sports last December.
"We were lucky enough to get to the final of the World Cup and the Copa America and it seems like we didn't do anything. We got to two finals. We didn't win, what can you do? We got to the final, we didn't lose in the last 16."
Proof of Messi's commitment to playing for Argentina, if it was needed, can be seen in his gruelling schedule over the past three years. He has played a major tournament during his off-season every summer since 2014.
Last year, he played in the Champions League final for Barcelona and a week later, was playing in the Copa America in Chile.
This year, he played in the final of Spain's Copa Del Rey on May 22 and five days later was turning out for Argentina in a Copa America warm-up against Honduras.
For his troubles, he suffered a back injury after a heavy collision with a Honduras player.
Messi then returned to Spain to give evidence in his tax fraud trial before hopping on a plane to California to join the Argentina squad at their base for the Copa America Centenario.
Yet despite being all smiles on the pitch, off-the-pitch problems have bothered Messi, with the crisis-ridden Argentina Football Association the subject of his ire.
He was left seething after a flight from Houston to New Jersey was held up, taking to social media to vent his frustration.
"Once again waiting on a plane to leave for our destination," Messi wrote. "What a disaster the AFA are. My god!"
Until Messi's declaration in the depths of the MetLife Stadium on Sunday, he had been content to do most of his talking on the pitch.
Yet now it seems likely, barring a retirement U-turn, that Messi will never emulate Diego Maradona's success in leading Argentina to a World Cup title.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
MESSI: FLOP OR NOT?