When Lionel Messi steps onto the field for Argentina’s opening game against Saudi Arabia on 22 November, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will know that the fixture marks the start of his last Fifa World Cup campaign. Now 35, the Argentine captain announced in October that Qatar 2022 will be his fifth and final World Cup tournament and he will be hoping to go out on a high.
Messi, who captained Argentina to Copa América success in 2021, first played in the World Cup in 2006 in Germany and also appeared in 2010, 2014 and 2018. The Paris Saint-Germain forward was clear that this next edition would be his last. “For sure – the decision has been made.”
At the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, “La Albiceleste” have been drawn in group C with Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Messi ‘movie’ should have ended in Russia
While Messi can count a winners’ medal from the 2005 Fifa Under-20 World Cup among his glittering collection of career achievements, he has never won the senior World Cup with his country. The closest he has come was at Brazil 2014 when Argentina were beaten in the final 1-0 in extra-time by Germany.
Four years ago in Russia, Messi said that it was a “now or never” moment for an ageing Argentina squad that arrived as one of the oldest teams in the tournament. “There is no more,” he added. “We have to see this as our final World Cup and look at it as such and take advantage of the opportunity.”
It’s a quote that “would have applied to Argentina today”, said Shubi Arun on AlJazeera.com. But in actuality, it was said ahead of the event in 2018. Qatar 2022 is “not a now-or-never” World Cup in the Messi story, “it’s a postscript for a movie that was supposed to have ended in Russia”.
‘He cannot do it alone’
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”, said Abdi Rashid in the Daily Mail. With that in mind, he will have an opportunity to “silence those doubters in what will be his last dance on the biggest stage”.
Argentina will come into this year’s tournament as the reigning Copa América champions and “rightfully as one of the favourites”, Rashid added. It will take something “truly special” for Argentina to win their first World Cup since 1986. But in Messi, “they have exactly that”.
Aware that his fifth World Cup with Argentina “almost certainly represents his last chance to get his hands on the trophy”, Messi has been “building up to this moment”, said AFP. However, he goes to the Gulf “remarkably still looking to score his first goal in the knockout stages” of a World Cup, “never mind actually win it”. Qatar 2022 may be his last chance to “emulate Maradona”, but if Argentina’s captain is to win the World Cup, “he cannot do it alone”.
Does football “owe Messi a World Cup?”, Arun added on AlJazeera.com. “Maybe”, but in “the same way it owes” Steven Gerrard a Premier League, Gigi Buffon a Champions League and Franck Ribery a Ballon d’Or. “Greatness is not always perfect and not winning the World Cup will not take away from Messi’s legacy. But winning it would add so much.”
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.