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Lionel Messi's decision to retire comes at worst possible time for Argentina

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Sunday, Lionel Messi made a decision that has since rocked the football world. Upon the conclusion of Argentina's 4-2 loss on penalties to Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario, he announced that his career with the national team is over. It's a decision that has shocked Argentina and Barcelona fans, in particular -- and one that could not have been easy to make.

The best player in the world is struggling and seemingly lacking confidence at the worst possible moment.

Many fans might consider this to be a desertion. After all, the captain does not jump ship before it sinks. Romance, chivalry and honor all require that he must go down with his ship. Only the gutless abandon, and in doing so, Messi's decision appears to give credence to the views of Diego Maradona, who questioned his leadership ability and chances of taking Argentina to the very top. "If they do not come home as champions, they should not come home at all," Maradona had threatened.

Lionel Messi missed Argentina's first penalty in the Copa America Centenario final against Chile.

One thing is irrefutable: To give up after three consecutive monumental failures in major finals, and four in his international career, must take great honesty or great cynicism. Only Messi knows his motives.

He is followed into retirement by a player of tremendous character, Javier Mascherano -- Argentina's true leader, who is retiring due to age and disappointment.

The big question in the hearts of inconsolable Argentina fans is: Can La Albiceleste qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia without these two icons? And what impact will their desertions have on the morale of the rest of the squad?

Barcelona might also have their own doubts; which remnants of Messi will report to preseason camp after this latest failure with Argentina, one that comes on the back of a failed season at club level after missing out on the Champions League, which was eventually won by Real Madrid?

Sponsors of the Argentine national team, such as Adidas, will need to sit down and discuss their agreements with the Argentine Football Association (AFA), whose president, Luis Segura -- let's not forget -- was charged with fraudulent administration on Thursday in an investigation related to TV broadcasting rights. 

Meanwhile, in Spain, the Panama Papers still have files on Messi's family and it remains to be seen how the situation will be resolved. 

The truth is that the best player in the world made the best decision for him in that moment and the worst decision for a nation that for 23 years, and probably many more, has seen the Obelisco (a national historic monument located in Buenos Aires) become an unholy altar to which footballing glory refuses to return.

Rafa Ramos is a staff writer and hosts ESPN Deportes Radio's Raza Deportiva. Follow him on Twitter @rafaramosESPN


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