Is next summer Lionel Messi’s last shot at World Cup glory?
Will Lionel Messi ever lift the World Cup? It’s his fourth World Cup without a stellar, or more importantly, triumphant tournament. Russia 2018 must belong to Messi for him to be considered the best of all time.
Jorge Sampaoli stated it quite simply after Messi scored a hat-trick in their final qualifier:
“Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi.”
Quite a statement from the man who led Chile at the previous World Cup. From both sides of the ball, he knows his superstar's ability. The former Sevilla boss' task now is to put together a cohesive defence and midfield to facilitate the Barcelona man’s final crack at football’s showpiece.
Last chance saloon, tovarisch
Argentina have long been crying out for a World Cup, considering the stars they’ve had since 1986. Their best chance was arguably 2006, with Colocinni, Ayala, Sorin and Heinze providing solidity at the back, Riquelme, Cambiasso and Aimar guile and creativity, Saviola, Julio Cruz, Hernan Crespo, Maxi Rodriguez, and a budding Leo Messi goals. The Albiceleste was simply unfortunate to face host Germany in the quarter-finals. Of course, they also faced die Mannschaft in the Maracana final four years ago. Deja vu.
If Sampaoli can't put the pieces together in Russia's mild climate, Leo will be 35 in Qatar's desert heat in 2022. That's not an enticing fallback position.
Does the king's man have the horses?
The boss will have to make some difficult choices to get Humpty onto the winner's platform.
Will Gonzalo Higuain be in the squad? He is level on goals with Messi in the World Cup with less games played despite his reputation for vanishing in big matches.
Whether or not the Juventus man is on the plane, how will Argentina set up? Will its perpetually dysfunctional defence make this a repeat of 2002, when England and Sweden(!) pipped them to the knockout rounds?
With its attacking wealth of attacking talent, the Albiceleste should have no problem scoring goals. Yet, no one but Messi has scored in competitive matches since last November. Next summer, Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi, and Higuain (or whoever Sampaoli prefers) must contribute.
Probably, they should cross their fingers to avoid Germany while they're at it.
It's club AND country, Lionel.
It’s fair to say Messi's supremacy at club level will never be in doubt. Some may prefer Ronaldo, but no one can say Leo's come up short for Barcelona. Messi has been blessed with gifts and opportunities at the Camp Nou that the rest of us only dream about. A manager who ascribes to the same philosophy believes in him, makes room for him, and provides him the freedom to play as he likes. Leo was at his sparkling best during the Pep era.
At 32 now, he’s won eight league titles, five Copas del Rey, and four Champions League titles. Just no Copa Americas or men's World Cups. To be quite frank, an U20 World Cup and Olympic gold is not enough to be called the greatest ever.