SANTIAGO • Another tournament, another shattering defeat, and another round of unfavourable comparisons to Diego Maradona.
Lionel Messi was left reflecting on another bitterly familiar failure on Saturday, after Argentina suffered an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat in the Copa America final, as Chile won their first continental title in 99 years.
It was the second time in 12 months that Messi, the captain of his country, had finished on the losing side in a major final following Argentina's extra-time loss to Germany at the World Cup last year.
"This generation is desperate to win a title with the national team," said the 28-year-old before the final, which saw Argentina lose 1-4 in the penalty shoot-out following a 0-0 draw with hosts Chile, even after extra time.
"As a team, we deserve to win something and it would mean so much after the World Cup, where we came so close."
His wish did not come true.
A well thought-out plan by Chile kept Messi and the Argentina attack quiet for most of the match. And when rare chances were fashioned, they inexplicably failed to take them.
"The idea was for us to be the protagonist so the rival wouldn't be able to dominate the play," explained Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli.
"If you let them dominate, Messi will show you why he is the best in the world. The idea was to press high up the pitch and come out playing the ball."
It worked a treat.
Saturday's defeat will reignite the debate about where Messi deserves to be ranked in the pantheon of the very greatest players to have graced the sport.
For many, his extraordinary achievements at club level with Barcelona over the past decade have already guaranteed him a place alongside Brazilian legend Pele and fellow Argentinian Maradona. Others, however, insist that his failure to lead his country to international glory puts him just behind Pele and Maradona, who won four World Cups between them.
Statistically at least, Messi outscores Maradona in almost every department, with 46 goals in 103 international appearances compared to Maradona's 34 goals in 91 games.
At club level, Messi has amassed 412 goals in 482 games, compared to Maradona's 312 in 588 matches.
Messi has won three European Cups with Barcelona; the famous trophy is conspicuously absent from Maradona's CV. Messi has been named world footballer of the year four times; Maradona earned the accolade only once.
Yet the arguments invariably circle back to trophies at international level. Although Messi played a key role in Argentina reaching last year's World Cup final in Brazil, his achievements at international level pale in relation to Maradona's 1986 World Cup triumph.
Messi can justifiably reflect, however, that the margins are impossibly fine. In both last year's World Cup final and Saturday's Copa America final, he had helped create gilt-edged chances for Gonzalo Higuain that the Napoli striker squandered on each occasion.
In the penalty shoot-out, Higuain again blasted his effort high and wide to Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo's obvious delight.
"This is a privileged generation and now it is time to enjoy it. We are not used to winning anything so this is an exception," said Bravo.
While another shot at glory goes begging, Argentina winger Ezequiel Lavezzi remains sure his captain will inspire the team to glory some day.
"At some point, Messi will win something with Argentina," he said. "We are just missing that little step to achieve something."