He got on the spot and almost nonchalantly scored his first goal of FIFA 2022, becoming the first Argentinian to score in 4 World Cups.
Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais didn’t really stand a chance against Lionel Messi once Argentina they received a penalty in the 7th minute of the game. He dived in the wrong direction: a clever short stop just before kicking the ball and Messi sent the ball in the opposite direction. I can’t blame the goalkeeper. He was staring at a player who is undoubtedly one of the best ever. Messi celebrated with teammates – a big smile on his face.
But then the story changed drastically: after the final whistle, Messi looked nothing short of desolate. His shoulders hunched, a familiar frown on his face, the return to the tunnel slow and tiring. It was almost as if he could visualize the World Cup trophy slipping away once again. Argentina had suffered one of the biggest defeats in the history of the tournament. Played – 1, Lost – 1.


(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Think Lionel Messi and you will be thinking of two things: one of the best footballers of all time and also a superstar who has yet to win a World Cup.
With Barcelona FC, Messi has won everything. Even with Argentina he has a Copa America. But the greatest prize continues to elude him. And that in itself is a lonely place to be.
All comparisons between him and his illustrious predecessor and compatriot Diego Armando Maradona end with the same statement: “Maradona won a World Cup, Messi did not”.
The ongoing World Cup in Qatar is still in its nascent stages yet there have already been so many talking points and even controversies that it is becoming difficult to keep track of. And one of the biggest talking points was once again: Can Messi finally get his hands on the World Cup trophy in what is almost certainly his last outing on the world stage? If he does, he too will bring him before the other man of this generation who will comfortably find his place among the all-time greats: Cristiano Ronaldo.


Portugal have never won the World Cup and realistically they are unlikely to do so, at least for a while. Not many people expect Ronaldo to lead Portugal to the title. Things are very different for Lionel Messi.
Can Messi win the World Cup? If there’s a sense of déjà vu you feel when you hear this oft-repeated question, don’t blame yourself. It’s a question she’s been asking since her first appearance at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
There are perhaps two different reasons for this: 1. Messi is undoubtedly one of the best footballers of all time, but without a World Cup medal his legacy is not complete. Imagine if Maradona hadn’t led Argentina to the 1986 title. How different would his legacy be? There was a palpable sense of heartbreak as Argentina fell 0-1 at the last hurdle in the 1990 final to West Germany. Andreas Brehme not only led the West Germans to the World Cup title with his goal in the final, but effectively ensured that Maradona would only have one World Cup title on his resume. And this connects with the second reason – 2. It has been too long since the Albiceleste last won the World Cup – 36 years to be exact.
But is it fair to expect one man to carry the expectations of an entire nation? Well that may not be right but it has already happened so many times in the sports arena – just ask Sachin Tendulkar. And that’s when the work becomes not only very hard, but also very lonely. The teams change, the coaches change, the venues change, but the pressure of expectations only increases. Indian cricket fans know quite well how important the 2011 ODI World Cup trophy was for Sachin Tendulkar. The whole team wanted to win the title for him. It is the same with the Argentine teams that have played the last two editions of the fifa world cup – they want to win it for Messi. But the wait still continues.
The wait almost ended in 2014 in Brazil, when Messi was one step away from the trophy. But hindering Argentina in the last hurdle were the Germans – And Albiceleste faltered, losing 1-0 after extra time. Messi received the Ballon d’Or, but it almost seemed like a consolation prize. After all, the Ballon d’Or is not a World Cup trophy. The look on Messi’s face after that final wasn’t much different from the one he had after the defeat to Saudi Arabia last Tuesday. He held the Player of the Tournament award in his hands, but his face wore an extremely sad expression. He wasn’t just sad though, he was alone.


(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
After a forgettable outing in Russia last time out, Messi returned to the world stage, once again as captain of the Argentina side with the aim of ending a 36-year wait. Argentina entered this edition of the World Cup with form under their belt. After winning a record tying 15th Copa America – their first major title in 28 years, Messi’s magic took the Blue and White sky shirts to the Finalissima title earlier this year, with a 3-0 victory over European champions Italy in the final.
The buzz was that Lionel Scaloni, the 44-year-old former Argentine full-back, managed to get the team together and spring it forward as a unit. They were riding high on a three-year, 36-game hitting streak.
And then it’s over. What no one, perhaps not even the Saudis and perhaps their fans, expected was to see the two-time champions go down in their first outing and also the one against the lowest placed team in their group.
Let’s face it, the Saudis played phenomenal football, especially in the first half. Let us not forget that the only goal Argentina scored in that game was from the penalty spot, while both of Saudi Arabia’s goals were stunning shots from the pitch. The goalkeeper who awarded Messi the penalty subsequently made some great saves to deny the Biancocelesti any further forays to ensure the Saudis maintain their slim one-goal lead. They deserved to win that match. Let’s also not forget that Argentina had an impressive three goals overturned for offside in that match.
In the midst of all this, give Messi a thought. Here is someone who should always lead Argentina to the title. But football is a team sport and Messi’s magic alone is not enough for the World Cup. We have seen it in so many editions by now. And this is also what makes Maradona so special. He led Argentina to the title in 1986, playing every single minute of every match, scoring 5 goals and providing 5 assists. Of course he was judged the winner of the Ballon d’Or as the best player of the tournament, although Gary Lineker took him to the top scorer award, with 6 goals. And then Maradona almost single-handedly led Argentina to the final in the following 1990 edition in Italy. But somehow, as things stand, such a feat seems like a mountain that may be too high for Messi to climb.
Messi’s list of awards and accolades is staggering. He has really won everything, except of course the World Cup. And at 35, in his fifth World Cup, the little wizard once again finds himself in a very lonely corner.
In all four previous editions, when Messi failed to get his hands on the trophy, he was able to return to the comfort of the club that gave him everything and made him the superstar he is: Barcelona. This time, that comforting hug is also missing.
Of course the World Cup campaign in Qatar is far from over for Argentina and could spell a dramatic turnaround in fortunes, but Messi knows if things don’t go right this time, there likely won’t be a next one. time.
Next up for Argentina are injury-ravaged Mexico on Sunday (27 November). The Mexicans also come from a disappointing game: 0-0 against Poland. It could very well have been 1-0 for the Pole, but for a splendid save by Guillermo Ochoa.
Neither team can afford a misstep. Yet the stakes are much higher for Argentina and Messi.
1978 – Daniel Passarella, 1986 – Diego Maradona, 2022 – ?
Can Lionel Messi add his name to that list or will he continue to stay in that very lonely corner?

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