Let’s have a look at four of the Little Magician’s moments for Argentina, one from each World Cup he has played in.
Mumbai: With Lionel Messi recently confirming that Qatar 2022 would be his last World Cup, it will surely be an emotional affair. His fifth and final World Cup, his fifth and final attempt at raising the historical trophy over his head, like Maradona in 1986. In light of this, it seems only right to have a look at four of the Little Magician’s moments for Argentina, one from each World Cup he has played in.
In 2006, under Jose Pekerman, he was called up to the squad despite carrying a hamstring injury, and being just 18 years old. For the first match against Ivory Coast, he was left on the substitutes bench, but was brought on against Serbia and Montenegro. Argentina was winning 3-0 by the time Messi came on in the 75th minute.
By the time the game ended, Argentina had won 6-0, with Messi assisting one, with a pass across the face of goal to Hernan Crespo less than three minutes after coming on, and scoring one, a low drive into the bottom corner with his weaker right foot. This set records, with Messi becoming the youngest player to represent Argentina at a World Cup.
And the sixth-youngest goal-scorer in World Cup history. A small hint at what was to come from the diminutive forward in the future. However, the present wasn’t as bright, as the team got knocked out against Germany in the quarter finals on penalties, following a 1-1 draw.
Under manager Diego Maradona in 2010, Messi and Argentina had struggled to qualify for the World Cup, and did it with a 1-0 win over Uruguay in their final qualifying match. However, Argentina had to cope without maverick attacking midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme’s genius on the ball, due to his retirement from international duty due to a reported falling out with Maradona.
Before the tournament, it is claimed Maradona asked Messi for tactical advice, and Messi obliged, advising a 4-3-1-2, with himself as the attacking midfielder. A move which paid off, as in the second group game, Messi provided four assists in La Albiceleste’s 4-1 win over South Korea.
However, the team’s 2010 tournament dream was to be cut short in the quarter-finals by Germany again, getting hammered 4-0, their worst margin of defeat at a World Cup since 1974. Messi, uncharacteristically, ended the tournament without a single goal to his name.
2014 was Messi’s true chance at World Cup glory. A team worse than his 2006 and 2010 teams overall, but Messi in his elegant prime. He started the tournament with four goals in the group stage, and despite not scoring any knock-out goals, was exceptional throughout, helping his team to the final, beating the likes of Switzerland 1-0 in the Round of 16, Belgium 1-0 in the Quarter Finals, and Netherlands 0-0 (4-2 on penalties) in the Semi Final.
However, in the final, they faced Germany. both Argentina and Germany, had chances, but in the end, we all know what happened. Mario Götze stepped up with his famous 113th minute winner, which led to the Argentines leaving the tournament with silver medals, and Germany completing a hat-trick of knocking out Messi’s Argentina at the World Cup.
Coming into 2018, people thought it would be La Pulga’s final World Cup, and expectations were low for him and his team, following a 6-1 loss to Spain in March 2018, when Messi was out injured. But the veteran star returned in time to be on the plane. However, the tournament started badly for both Messi and Argentina, with the number 10 missing a potential match-winning penalty versus Iceland, forcing Argentina to leave with a 1-1 draw, then got hammered 3-0 against Croatia.
But, in Argentina’s final group game, Messi stepped up, and scored an astonishing three-touch goal versus Nigeria, which was nominated for goal of the tournament. After controlling a nearly-50-yard pass on his thigh, Messi took the ball into his stride with his left foot, and slammed it into the far corner with his weaker right foot.
This goal, along with beautiful, also gave Messi yet another place in the record books. He was the third Argentine to score in three different World Cups, after his ex-manager Diego Maradona, and striker Gabriel Batistuta. He also became the first player to score in the World Cup while in his teens, twenties, and his thirties
However, the Argentine reliance on Messi was seen, as the team was eliminated 4-3 by eventual winners France in the Round of 16, a match where Mess provided two assists, but it ultimately wasn’t enough.
Now, with a squad balanced with youth and experience, Messi and Argentina will hope to put failures behind them and go for glory. Messi’s last chance at replicating the achievements of Maradona. He’ll hope to go one step further than 2014, and raise the iconic trophy over his head.