Messi’s history-making World Cup campaign
• Messi – Can he lift the World Cup trophy tomorrow?
It would be quite the fairy-tale, would it not?
One of – if not the – greatest player to step out onto the world stage, bowing out of international football with the trophy of his career. The one every player dreams of, even a man who has won so much already.
And Lionel Messi’s performances in Qatar have been a testament to just how much he wants this – a key figure in Argentina’s run to the semi-final, stepping up to take the first penalty of the shootout against the Netherlands with immeasurable pressure on his shoulders, and wearing the weight of the captain’s armband with pride.
No one expected the South Americans to be subject to an opening group game defeat to Saudi Arabia, who came from behind to win 2-1 despite Lionel Messi’s penalty putting Argentina ahead.
They went into their second game against Mexico knowing that anything less than a win would almost certainly seal their exit from the competition before the last game of the group – and Messi, when his team needed him the most, stepped up. Involved in both goals in the 2-0 win (one goal, one assist) ensured they stayed on track heading into their final encounter with Poland.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward, pulling the strings as always, saw his team book their place in the round-of-16 with a 2-0 win, setting up a clash with surprise package Australia. Scoring his third of the tournament, Messi bagged a fantastic goal 10 minutes before half-time to put them in cruise control going into the second half, eventually going on to win 2-1.
Louis van Gaal’s Dutchmen welcomed them into the last eight, but the game was anything but friendly between the two. Another two goal involvements from Messi (one goal, one assist) put Lionel Scaloni’s side in the driving seat but for some late drama. Their captain stepped up and slotted home their first penalty, before Argentina booked their place in the semi-finals – setting up a mouth-watering clash against Croatia.
The 35-year-old has already written his name in the history books in Qatar, overtaking the late Diego Maradona for games played for his country at a World Cup tournament. His assist in the Mexico win saw him become the first player to set up a goal at five separate men’s World Cup tournaments – 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, and now 2022.
When the forward led his charges in the semi-final game against Croatia on Tuesday, he would not only equal Lothar Matthaus’s record of 25 games, but scored (penalty) and uniquely assisted in one, in Argentina’s thumping 3-0 win to book a place to the final tomorrow where they face off with France who deflated the pride of Africa – Morocco, 2-0 in Wednesday’s second semi-final tie.
It is safe to say that Messi has been integral to their tournament thus far, demanding more of his team and himself. Having reached the final, he could be in line to win the Golden Ball as he did in 2014. But instead of picking it up on the back of a loss, he would love to collect it after he has lifted the World Cup trophy this time.
Question: Can he clear France out of the way and cement himself in the hearts of Argentinians forever?
The French are also eager to defend the title they snatched in Russia four years ago – and become the only country after Brazil (1958 and 1962) to do so.