When VAR deemed Piero Hincapie’s foul on Angel Di Maria to have been outside the area, Ecuador players breathed a momentary sigh of relief that they hadn’t conceded a penalty.
But they quickly realised they now had to defend a Lionel Messi free-kick right on the 18 yard line.
Giving Messi a set-piece outside the area is as dangerous as conceding a penalty, with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner unbelievably prolific from dead-balls.
In stoppage time, having assisted two, Messi scored his second free-kick of this Copa America campaign and the 58th free-kick of his career by walloping the ball into the top corner on the goalkeeper’s side.
¡Bombazo! Lionel Messi la clavó de tiro libre para el 3-0 final de @Argentina sobre @LaTri
🇦🇷 Argentina 🆚 Ecuador 🇪🇨#VibraElContinente #VibraOContinente pic.twitter.com/FcvQrHuRka
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) July 4, 2021
No other active player has scored more free-kicks than Messi, who is now just four away from tying Diego Maradona’s record of 62 direct free-kicks.
It’s almost inevitable that when Messi places the ball down, he’s going to find the net. And a clip of his preparation prior to his latest set-piece stunner gives insight into just why Messi has become the master of free-kicks.
The way he preps the ball … so much focus 🎯
— Messi Worldwide (@Messi_Worldwide) July 4, 2021
For some, putting the ball down is a straightforward task that doesn’t require much thought. But Messi, being the perfectionist that he is, takes his time and ensures the placement of the ball is bang on the money.
He then moves to a crouched position, with his hand touching the turf as though he’s ready to race Usain Bolt in a 100m sprint.
While he’s doing this, the 34-year-old is looking at the goalkeeper and assessing the situation before standing directly over the ball and preparing for his run-up.
It’s so meticulous and, to the surprise of absolutely no-one, Messi put the ball in the top bins to make it 3-0 with his eighth free-kick goal in an Argentina shirt.
In recent years, teams have even started putting players on the line to defend his free-kicks but Messi has always had an answer.
His technique and unique way of striking the ball has brought success from all angles and distances.
Messi’s leg when taking a free-kick has an angle of 50 degrees. He plants almost his entire boot on the ground before hitting the ball, giving him stability and control in the shot.
Then, to improve his accuracy, Messi arches his shoulders and chest to caress the ball, hunching his body into a more compact position.
“When Messi strikes the ball, he shifts his hip to the right. He really moves his hips to the right as he’s striking to open up his left strike leg,” Dr Rajpal Brar told the Squawka podcast.
“And what that does on his plant leg is that it shifts all the weight to the outside of the foot. So then when he follows through and he’s striking the ball – that left leg coming from left to right – now everything is going onto the outside of his ankle almost like what happens when you sprain your ankle.
“We call it ‘inversion sprain’ when it twists inwards – it’s that same force. You have all that force on the outside of your ankle and it twists inwards. But in Messi’s case, he’s trained himself and his body to control that motion.”
Has there ever been a better free-kick taker than Messi? It’s hard to look past him.