It’s been 16 years since Messi first played in the world’s most prestigious football tournament – but so far, it’s the one trophy that has evaded him in his otherwise glittering career.
The former Barcelona talisman turned Paris Saint-Germain star has rediscovered his goalscoring form at club level recently after seeing a dip last season, scoring six goals in 11 appearances this campaign.
When it comes to the international stage, Messi hasn’t taken his foot off the gas either, netting two in his side’s friendly against Honduras last week and scoring all five goals in a 5-0 win over Estonia in June.
Saturday’s win means the South American nation haven’t lost in 34 games – the perfect form to be heading into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in.
And with the tournament just eight weeks away, South American football expert Tim Vickery thinks Messi has been directing all his attention on this winter’s competition and his bid to add another honour to his long list of accolades.
“It’s obvious that the World Cup and Argentina has been his priority for some time,” Vickery explained. “They’re [Argentina] now 34 games unbeaten and, alright, it was only Honduras in the States, but again that was hugely impressive. Going 34 games unbeaten is not a run that gets given away in a sweetie shop.”
Of course, Qatar 2022 is far from being Messi’s first rodeo when it comes to international tournaments, with this winter’s competition being the 35-year-old’s fifth World Cup. However, Vickery believes none of the previous Argentinian sides the Barcelona legend has played in have been as good as the current crop they currently have for his last shot at the tournament.
“I honestly think this is the best Argentina team that Messi’s ever played in,” Vickery continued.
Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball at World Cup 2014 in Brazil, but his country fell at the final hurdle to win the tournament
“Maybe you could talk about 2006, but then he wasn’t sufficiently important to the team. In that quarter-final when they lost to Germany on penalties, he spent that whole game on the bench. The focal point of that side was of course [Juan] Riquelme. The focal point of this side is Messi, further forward.”
In the previous World Cup in 2018, Argentina were knocked out by eventual-winners France in the round of 16, falling to a 4-3 defeat.
Four years before that, the South Americans came the closest to winning it since they were crowned World Champions in 1986, losing 1-0 to Germany in the 2014 final – the same side that knocked them out in Messi’s first World Cup in the quarter-finals in 2006.
But now, Vickery believes the improved standard of Argentina’s midfielders, including Tottenham loanee Giovani Lo Celso, and their link-up with the PSG star will allow them to go one step further this time.
“One of the real strong points of the team is the midfield,” he said. “[Leandro] Paredes anchors, [Rodrigo] De Paul adds such dynamism, Lo Celso just threads his little passes through – he has a sweet thing going with Messi.
“And what it means is they’re getting the ball to Messi, much closer to the opposing goal than has been the case. When they’ve been poor – and there were times in the last World Cup where they were an absolute shambles – they just give the ball to Messi and pray. He was having to drop so deep to start the moves. Not anymore.”
- A TalkSport report