Argentina hopes to win the World Cup for the third time - and Lionel Messi for his ultimate crowning glory. The captain of the 'Albiceleste' has won everything there is to win at club level and is unmatched for world footballer's awards.
Messi won Olympic gold and most recently the Copa America with his country, only the World Cup trophy has so far been denied to him. His last attempt will be in Qatar, as the 35-year-old has already confirmed. Messi has been at a World Cup four times - in 2006 and 2010 he reached the quarter-finals with Argentina, in 2014 he lost 1-0 in the final after extra time against Germany and in 2018 he lost to eventual world champions France in the round of 16.
Due to the constant failure, "La Pulga" moved more and more into the shadow of Diego Maradona, who practically single-handedly led Argentina to their last World Cup title in 1986.
Maradona already surpassed by far
Messi has far surpassed Maradona in club trophies, individual honours, and caps and goals.
He has been absolutely world class for a decade and a half, while Maradona's lifestyle has allowed significantly fewer years in the circle of football elite footballers. Despite this - or precisely because of this - Maradona, who died two years ago, developed into a kind of mythical figure in Argentina.
Messi is valued and admired in his home country. However, he has not yet received the unconditional veneration that Maradona experienced. That should change in the coming weeks, after all Argentina is one of the favorites in the finals.
Team boss Lionel Scaloni's squad has been unbeaten in 35 games since 2019. Last year they won the Copa America, and that with a final victory in the Maracana over Brazil. Calling his first major title with the national team the most important achievement of his career, Messi also insisted he would exchange all his titles for a World Cup win.
Lo Celso injury hurts
Hopes in this regard were dampened a few days ago by the cancellation of Villarreal professional Giovani Lo Celso due to injury. Scaloni seemed to have finally found the formula that would best showcase Messi for the national team, and Lo Celso has played a crucial role along with fellow midfielders Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes.
Messi trusts his team boss to find the right solution after Lo Celso's absence. "Scaloni is one of us. He believes in us and gives us confidence. We've grown under him and made a big step forward," said Messi. The summit is expected to be reached with a final victory on December 18, before that they face in Group C against Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Poland.