The Argentine fans who celebrated in the streets of Buenos Aires, right outside Diego Maradona’s former home, may never hold Lionel Messi in such high regard, no matter what happens on Sunday.
In a sense, Messi has fought a losing battle for the same adulation as El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Boy), but the comparisons have never been of his own making. Like Maradona before him, Messi has led Argentina through successive World Cups, regardless of his quality elsewhere: he’s only come up short in one aspect, the one that really matters.
“Diego is watching us from heaven,” said Messi, after inspiring a 3-0 win over Croatia in which he scored a penalty and set up Julián Álvarez’s brace. “He is pushing us. I hope he continues like this until the end ”.
Messi is well complemented this time by Álvarez, and by the healthy contrast of the perennially aggressive Rodrigo De Paul and the meek Alexis Mac Allister, who will enjoy the rare distinction of becoming the first Brighton & Hove Albion player to feature in a final of the world Cup. . Where Messi has dragged them, Cristian Romero has brought the kicks and the screams.
When was the last time Argentina won the World Cup?
36 years have passed since the last of The two triumphs of Argentina in the World Cupin 1978 Y 1986. Maradona was just 17 at the time of the first, and despite earning high praise with Argentinos Juniors, his compatriots were devastated when their World Cup dream was dashed, courtesy of cigarette aficionado César Luis Menotti, who considered it too much. young to include him in the team. Instead, it was Mario Kempes and Daniel Bertoni’s double that beat the Netherlands in the final. He felt that the tournament had belonged to Argentina, the hosts, but his golden boy had played no role.
Mario Kempes (left) celebrates Argentina’s second goal in the 1978 World Cup final (Photo: AFP)
It wasn’t until 1986 that they were led by the feet (and hand) of Maradona, and despite Peter Shilton’s hurt feelings four decades later, in addition to England, their victory also saw them overcome Uruguay, Belgium and Germany. West in the final.
This time the body part in focus is Messi’s hamstring, which he was seen clutching for half an hour against Croatia before coming to life from the penalty spot. He will undoubtedly be inspired by the great Argentines of yesteryear, but also by those who fell short. At Italia 90, Maradona was fired up for another masterpiece against West Germany, enraged by the boos of his team’s national anthem from the stands. That wasn’t enough to prevent a 1-0 defeat, but it was remarkable that Argentina had reached the final after suffering the worst possible start to the tournament.
Argentina’s record in the men’s World Cup
Winners: 1978, 1986
runners-up: 1930, 1990, 2014
1930 (Uruguay): runners-up
1934 (Italy): round of 16
1938 (France): I do not participate
1950 (Brazil): I do not participate
1954 (Switzerland): I do not participate
1958 (Sweden): group stages
1962 (Chile): group stages
1966 (England): quarter finals
1970 (Mexico): I do not participate
1974 (Germany): second round groups
1978 (Argentina): champions
1982 (Spain): second round groups
1986 (Mexico): champions
1990 (Italy): runners-up
1994 (USA): round of 16
1998 (France): quarter finals
2002 (Korea-Japan): group stages
2006 (Germany): quarter finals
2010 (South Africa): quarter finals
2014 (Brazil): runners-up
2018 (Russia): round of 16
The class of 1990 was shocked by a nine-man Cameroon side in their opener, Francois Omam-Biyik scoring the only goal of the game. Lionel Scaloni’s current side have had to overcome similar chaos along the way, if not worse, in the form of their 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, ranked 48 places below them in the FIFA rankings.
Has Messi played in the World Cup final before?
But Messi has been there before. When Argentina was defeated by Germany and Mario Gotze’s decisive goal in extra time in 2014, that seemed to be the end. The chances of La Albiceleste reaching another final under Jorge Sampaoli in Russia seemed too slim (and rightly so, as they were knocked out by France in the round of 16). No one believed that Messi would continue to be around in Qatar, especially in his latest match-winning iteration. Cristiano Ronaldo, by contrast, arrived in Doha and, except for a record appearance against Ghana, was more of a hindrance than a help.
Messi’s opportunity seemed to have come and gone with the defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final (Photo: Getty)
Few have the opportunity to correct their biggest losses. Argentina first reached the final at the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay, where they lost to the hosts; they did not enjoy any more tangible success until 1978.
More than Soccer
Messi can’t allow that to define his career. He has already avenged himself for Copa América heartbreak, an injury inflicted so deeply that it forced him to briefly retire as an international after missing a penalty in the final against Chile. The World Cup is now the only gong that could haunt him, no matter how brave his face.
After Croatia, a television interviewer told him about his importance to the Argentines, whether he won the tournament or not. An emotional Messi responded: “It is no longer just the result but the path we have traveled. Before in Argentina, winning or losing was valued, but I think that now people value other things”.
This is undoubtedly Messi’s last hour on this stage. She could still become the best of him.