That’s how it should be again at the World Cup: The Argentine national team celebrates captain Lionel Messi after the triumph at the Copa America.Image: keystone
After the World Cup in Qatar, Lionel Messi will most likely retire from international football. It is the Argentinian’s last chance to fulfill his dream of being the best footballer. Our series on the key figures of the World Cup favourites.
Lionel Messi has won almost everything there is to win as a footballer. Individual awards such as World Player of the World (2x) and Ballon d’Or (7x). He celebrated eleven national championship titles (in Spain and France), won the Champions League four times, the Club World Cup three times and finally won the major title with Argentina and for Argentina in 2021 with the Copa América.
But something is still missing from the superstar’s palmares: a world title. Qatar is now the last chance for Messi and Argentina to turn things around. «La Pulga» (the flea) has announced that it will retire from international football after the desert tournament. The last chance to rise to the same level of respect in his homeland as Diego Maradona, who died two years ago.
“I’m counting the days until the World Cup starts.
That is why there is only one motto in Qatar: All for Messi and Messi for all. “It’s the dream that drives us. Argentina is supposed to be the world champion and Leo is supposed to be holding the trophy in the air on December 18,” says an Argentina fan who cycled from South Africa to Qatar and has just arrived at the venue. Messi himself says: “I am counting the days until the start of the World Cup.” There is a certain fear and nervousness because anything can happen at any time. And yet the 35-year-old says: “We can approach the tournament with peace of mind, because last year we fulfilled our big dream, which we missed so often.”
Last year, Messi finally won his big title with Argentina. For the first time since 1993, the “Albiceleste” brought home the Copa America. And of all things in Brazil and against Brazil, the great arch-rival. On the one hand, this victory showed that Messi can also be a leader. A few days ago, an excerpt from a documentary was released showing how “La Pulga” motivated his teammates before the final. You can see how he fires up his teammates and how much confidence he gives them.
On the other hand, winning the Copa took a huge amount of pressure off Messi’s shoulders and proved that Argentina are good enough as a team to win titles. Coach Lionel Scaloni’s team has found its groove. Emiliano Martinez provides consistency in goal, while defender Cristian Romero provides stability up front.
And up front you never had to worry about «Albiceleste». Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo de Paul, Angel Correa, Angel di Maria, Lautaro Martinez or Julian Alvarez – there is an abundance of quality. Argentina have not lost an incredible 35 games in a row. Only injuries could slow down the team – Romero and Paulo Dybala are injured, Giovani Lo Celso will probably miss the tournament completely.
“People come to the stadium just to watch Messi. He’s the best player in the history of the sport.”
Christophe Galtier, PSG coach
But there is still Lionel Messi. The star has found his footing after a difficult first season at PSG and – despite a slightly inflamed Achilles tendon – looks to be in top form at the World Cup. The Argentine has played 18 games this season and has been directly involved in 26 goals (12 goals, 14 assists). Only Erling Haaland and Neymar are in similar spheres in the top 5 leagues.
After Maradona, Messi should lead Argentina to the World Cup title.Image: keystone
In Argentina, newspapers rave about “the best Messi the national team has ever seen” or write: “Messi seems obsessed, focused, with a killer eye on the World Cup in Qatar.” It’s obvious: all of Argentina will play and cheer for Messi in this tournament to complete his palmares. Conversely, “La Pulga” will play for all of Argentina to give the country its first World Cup title since 1986 and Diego Maradona.
It would be almost poetic if Messi won the first World Cup after Maradona’s death. As if he had to wait until “El Pibe de Oro” (the golden boy) was no longer with us to finally follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.
Schedule for Argentina
November 22, 11:00 a.m.: Argentina vs. Saudi Arabia
November 26, 20:00: Argentina – Mexico
November 30, 20:00: Poland-Argentina
The official poster of the 2022 World Cup and its predecessors
Andri Ragettli skis and juggles football at the same time
Video: external / rest
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