It seemed an unbelievable possibility that Argentina would not be at next year’s World Cup. However, as I wrote in my editorial a few days ago, it was a very real possibility.
La Albiceleste will be at next year’s World Cup though, courtesy of a masterclass from their little magician Lionel Messi. The Barcelona star scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over Ecuador on Tuesday night to ensure that the South American giants would not miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1970.
Did when it most mattered
Some cynics will ask where Lionel Messi has been for the rest of the campaign. Of course, there was the short international retirement before a swift return. However, Argentina have genuinely lacked a cutting edge at times in qualification, even with Messi in the team.
It is surprising really considering the players in that Argentina squad. It is brimming with top-class attacking players. None of their attacking players had performed in recent matches, until Tuesday night in Quito when Messi did what Messi does best and produced when it mattered.
The little man has a habit of producing the goods when it matters in big games for Barcelona. Not so much for Argentina, though. That has been one of the question marks surrounding his place in the all-time greatest lists.
Messi gets another chance to win the World Cup
For me, Lionel Messi is the best footballer I have ever seen. I am not a Messi fanboy though, as I believe that Cristiano Ronaldo is fantastic athlete and footballer. My opinion is that Messi is more technically gifted than Ronaldo.
I do not want to get into the debate of who the better player is, as it is a never-ending debate, as different people have different opinions.
However, Messi’s doubters have criticised the 30-year-old because he has never won a big international trophy with Argentina. This leads to inevitable comparisons with Ronaldo, who last year lead his country Portugal to the Euro 2016 crown.
It also leads to comparisons with Messi’s compatriot Diego Maradona and Brazilian great Pele. It seems that Messi must win an international tournament to give credence to his case as the greatest player ever.
Different generations will have different opinions on the matter, though. My grandad used to say that Stanley Matthews was the greatest player he saw play, but Dixie Dean was also his hero in his childhood.
It is all about time and perspective. Luckily enough I have grown up in a time that I have been able to watch and savour the performances of both Messi and Ronaldo. In my younger days, the great Brazilians Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were also fantastic to watch.
The 2018 World Cup will probably be Lionel Messi’s last chance to win the World Cup. He seemed determined that he was not going to miss out on that chance by ensuring his team qualified for the event.
Argentina players need to step-up their game
As Argentinian boss Jorge Sampaoli stated after the win in Quito, his players need to try to make things happen themselves and not always expect Messi to do everything.
It is not as if Messi does not have a talented supporting cast. Players like Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain would get into most teams in world football. The latter two missed the latest squad for differing reasons, but both should be available for the World Cup.
These players need to produce the sort of form they do with their clubs, Dybala, in particular, has started the Serie A campaign on fire, yet the 23-year-old is yet to find the net for Argentina in ten appearances.
Messi is good, but there is no such thing as a one-man team. Maradona and Pele did not win World Cups by themselves. Both had underrated teammates, who probably did not get the credit they deserved.
Argentina will head into the World Cup as one of the favourites to lift the trophy at odds of 8/1. Only Germany, Brazil and Spain are shorter odds.
I am pleased that Lionel Messi will be playing at World Cup 2018. Unfortunately, for the Barcelona star, I do not think he will win the trophy. The reason is that his talented teammates just cannot get it together as a team and it will no doubt give Messi critics ammunition for the rest of his career.
Can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina to World Cup triumph next year?
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