Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Messi’s olímpico chase: The one goal that has eluded him over his legendary career

Lionel Messi has accomplished everything in football. Almost.

A long list of team trophies and an incredible amount of individual awards have placed Messi in another stratosphere. In the eyes of many, the 2022 World Cup he won with Argentina was the last box Messi needed to check to be considered the greatest of all time.

But there is one last feat that Messi is still chasing. Even after scoring more than 800 goals in his career, Messi hasn’t scored one directly from a corner kick. Known as an olímpico, that bit of skill and cleverness has become Messi’s obsession. There are entire YouTube compilation videos dedicated to chronicling his many attempts over the years. Coincidentally, the player who is thought to have scored the first olímpico in 1924, Cesareo Onzari, was an Argentine during a friendly against Uruguay.

What has to be eating at Messi is the fact that the olímpico is now 100 years old and it has been pulled off by countless others. Youth players, Sunday league all stars, and the game’s most elite professionals have all celebrated olímpicos. For Messi, the elusiveness of the olímpico is not due to a lack of trying. He attempted them countless times during his FC Barcelona years, forcing goalkeepers to be increasingly vigilant when he took a corner. He has tried many times with Argentina, with PSG, and now as captain of Inter Miami, Messi is still going for it.

Messi’s Career Firsts

Achievement Opponent Date Game #

First goal

Albacete

May 1, 2005

9

First left-footed goal

Albacete

May 1, 2005

9

First red card

Hungary

August 17, 2005

10

First yellow card

Osasuna

October 22, 2005

18

First assist

Panathinaikos

November 2, 2005

20

First right-footed goal

Mallorca

January 29, 2006

33

First headed goal

Real Zaragoza

February 1, 2006

34

First hat-trick

Real Madrid

March 10, 2007

69

First penalty scored

Algeria

June 5, 2007

82

First penalty missed

Villarreal

January 31, 2008

120

First free-kick goal

Atletico Madrid

October 4, 2008

150

In the eighth minute of Inter Miami’s preseason friendly against FC Dallas on January 22, Messi nearly broke his olímpico hex. Messi saw Dallas’ Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Paes off his line, anticipating a cross. Paes had to quickly readjust his forward progress to make the acrobatic save. He ended up inside his own net. Messi tried again five minutes later, but again, Paes denied Messi at the near post.

During the MLS regular season opener on February 21, Messi went for it yet again, but his corner kick was tipped over the crossbar by Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath. The response across social media, notably from Argentina, was simple: Messi isn’t going to stop trying until he scores.

An olímpico is a combination of cunning skill, opportunism and luck. After one is scored, there’s always a debate among fans about whether the strike was intentional or not. It’s all part of the olímpico’s mystique in world football. Whether it’s a venomous curler, poor defending at the near post or a ball that gets carried by strong winds, olímpicos are always memorable — they’re embarrassing for goalkeepers and career-defining moments for goalscorers.

When former Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado scored an olímpico against Genoa in 2021, the Colombian called the goal “the best one of my career.” Cuadrado’s whipped-in corner kick flew over Genoa goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu’s outstretched arms, then ricocheted off the far post and into the net. “‘Strike it hard toward the near post’ is what we had practiced,” Cuadrado said after the match. “Luckily it turned out better than I thought it would.”

U.S. women’s national team icon Megan Rapinoe is the only player in women’s or men’s soccer to score two olímpicos at the Olympics. Her first came in 2012 — it bounced in at the near post, as the right-footed Rapinoe attempted to place the ball in a difficult spot for the Canadian defense. In 2021, Rapinoe aimed for the far post and beat Australia goalkeeper Teagan Micah. Afterward, she boasted, “I meant this one.”

“I actually said it to (then U.S. coach) Vlatko (Andonovski) and our assistant coach Laura Harvey yesterday,” Rapinoe explained in 2021. “They were saying, ‘Put it here, this is where we want to go, this is kind of the game plan,’ and I was like ‘Well, I might just shoot it.’”

In 2023, Republic of Ireland’s Katie McCabe scored the first-ever olímpico at a women’s World Cup. The only olimpico scored at a men’s World Cup came in 1962, when Colombia’s Marcos Coll did it against the Soviet Union.

Since the league’s inception in 1996, MLS has seen its fair share of olímpicos. The most recent one came last season, courtesy of Toronto FC’s Federico Bernardeschi, who called himself “a lucky man” after scoring it. If Messi scores his first with Inter Miami, he would join MLS legends David Beckham and Thierry Henry on the list of stateside olímpico scorers. Beckham, now Inter Miami’s co-owner, scored two in the same season for the LA Galaxy in 2012.

That same year, Henry scored an olímpico at age 35 when the Columbus Crew visited Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.

Columbus backup goalkeeper Matt Lampson had entered the match in the 86th minute as an injury replacement, with the Red Bulls up 2-1. Henry stood at the corner flag and assessed his chances. As Henry began his run up, Lampson, who was expecting Henry to cross the ball, ventured further off his line. Henry got under the ball and curled it towards the far post.

The height of the shot confused Lampson. The American goalkeeper gave up on the ball thinking it would land on top of the net. Instead, Henry’s corner kick smacked off the back post and into the net.

“(Lampson) was off his line,” Henry said at the time. “So I tried. I’ve scored some OK goals in my career. But I have to say, this one is not a bad one.”

Henry’s Red Bulls teammate Tim Cahill, himself familiar with scoring in incredible fashion, was in awe of Henry’s mastery of one of football’s rarest goals.

“I don’t think many people can do that,” Cahill said. “It was pretty special, but, you know, he’s a pretty special guy in general.”

So is Messi, which is why his ongoing inability to finally execute an olimpico is so intriguing.

After he tried twice in preseason and again on match day one of this season, Messi only took short corners against the Galaxy on match day two. Short corners can nullify a faster side’s transition moments, and in that match, Inter Miami was careful to avoid being punished on the counterattack by a much quicker Galaxy team.

Messi stuck to the script that day, and maybe Miami’s shortcomings will make him think twice about future attempts, but it seems likely that the 36-year-old Argentine will have a go throughout 2024, for both club and country.

With the end of his storied career now in sight, Messi seems intent to do everything possible to cross that one last task from his to-do list.

(Top photo: Michael Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images)


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