Messi gears up for last ever World Cup – can he bow out with victory?

Lionel Messi is gearing up for his last-ever World Cup… so can the Argentine great win the only major trophy missing from his iconic CV? After returning to form at PSG, glory in Qatar is in his sights

  • Lionel Messi is set to compete at his final ever World Cup out in Qatar this year
  • The PSG superstar has confirmed the upcoming tournament will be his last
  • He is yet to lift the famous trophy, which is the only major honour to elude him
  • So can Messi go out on the highest of highs and capture it in the Middle East?
  • He has returned to form for PSG at the perfect time early in the 2022-23 season
  • In a World Cup clouded by controversy, Argentina’s icon may be the shining light
  • Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates

Scintillating, marvellous, magical. Those are just a few of the superlatives that have been used to describe Lionel Messi over the last 18 years.

Throughout his career the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has achieved what many players could only dream of. But one trophy has so far proved beyond his reach – the World Cup.

Messi, for much of his career, has suffered heartache with Argentina. In the 2010 World Cup he watched a host of his Barcelona team-mates experience glory with Spain after La Albiceleste were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Germany.

Lionel Messi is gearing up for his final World Cup outing with Argentina in Qatar this year

The only major trophy which has eluded Messi is the World Cup, which he failed to win in 2014

Four years later it was a 113th-minute strike by Mario Gotze that prevented him from lifting the big prize at the final hurdle despite being awarded the Golden Ball award.

The 2018 World Cup was another one to forget for Argentina. To put it bluntly, it was the Kylian Mbappe Tournament. The Frenchman scored a brace to help Les Bleus beat Messi and Co 3-2 in the Round of 16 before going on to become a world champion.

Now 35, Messi is well into the latter stages of his career and he confirmed last month the upcoming World Cup in Qatar will be his last. ‘There’s some anxiety and nerves at the same time… it is the last one,’ he said in an interview with Star Plus.

For all his greatness, critics have often pointed to Diego Maradona and Pele’s World Cup success to deny Messi’s claim as the Greatest of All Time. With that in mind, he will have an opportunity to silence those doubters in what will be his last dance on the biggest stage.

Messi’s failure to win the competition so far can be used against him in the GOAT debate

Diego Maradona (L) and Pele (R) got their hands on the famous trophy in their careers

When Lionel Scaloni took over from Jorge Sampaoli after the failings of 2018, not many would have predicted what he has gone on to achieve. He took the Argentina job with no experience in management but has since transformed the South American side.

Argentina come into this year’s tournament on the back of a 35-match unbeaten run and rightfully as one of the favourites. They ended a 28-year barren run after winning the Copa America in 2021. And to make it sweeter, that victory came at the expense of bitter rivals Brazil inside the iconic Maracana.

While they may not possess the high-profile superstars previous teams had, in the likes of Emiliano Martinez, Cristian Romero, Rodrigo de Paul and Lautaro Martinez they have a strong core more than good enough to challenge the best.

With Scaloni in charge, Argentina have taken a step away from being heavily reliant on Messi. In tournaments gone by, if the talisman had a day off the team tended to struggle. Now they’re efficient at both ends of the pitch and have the type of grit they’ve lacked in previous years.

‘Today there’s no team dominating 70-80 per cent of a match. There’s moments in which you have to fall back, work, feel that your are at a hard time,’ Scaloni said.

‘The good thing about this team is that it knows how to suffer.’

But Argentina head into this year’s tournament as one of the favourites after toppling Brazil in last year’s Copa America showpiece – and at their bitter rivals’ Maracana stadium

Messi has also returned to form for PSG at the perfect time ahead of their trip to Qatar

So can the Argentina icon end his international career on the highest of highs by winning it?

It will take something truly special for Argentina to win their first World Cup since 1986 but in Messi, they have exactly that. The Paris Saint-Germain forward appears to be at his best again after an underwhelming campaign last season.

Alongside Mbappe and Neymar, the trio are producing exactly what is expected of them in deadly style. Playing in a more central role behind Mbappe, Messi has contributed with 12 goals and 13 assists in just 17 appearances across all competitions. 

But one thing we have learned over the years is that mere numbers fail to do the Argentine justice. It’s the mazy runs and inch-perfect passes which truly make Messi a joy to watch.

We’ve been here before, though. Argentina have threatened to win the famous trophy on many occasions only to eventually underdeliver. But there is genuine optimism this time around, in a World Cup overshadowed by significant controversy, that Messi could prove to be the shining light one last time.

Over to you, Lionel.

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