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Lionel Messi has timed his return to form perfectly for the World Cup

There is just one major trophy missing from Lionel Messi’s collection, as many like to regularly remind him. For all that the 35-year-old has achieved in football, he has yet to lift the World Cup trophy, coming closest in 2014 when Argentina lost in the final to Germany. This winter might be Messi’s last chance to correct this.

 

The signs are encouraging for Messi ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Indeed, he has registered four goals and seven assists in just eight Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain this season with Messi also contributing one goal and one assist in two Champions League appearances. He looks like his old self again.

 

Last season was a difficult one for Messi. It started with the traumatic departure from Barcelona and finished with PSG failing to live up to expectations. Messi scored just six goals in his maiden season in Ligue 1 as Mauricio Pochettino struggled to find a system to get the most out of his fellow countryman.

 

A lot has changed since then, though. Pochettino is no longer manager at the Parc des Princes after his sacking during the summer and his replacement Christoph Galtier has built his PSG team around Messi with the 35-year-old as a central playmaker behind a front two of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

 

A support system has also been built around Messi at international level. In the past, Argentina have counted on their best player to create something out of nothing. Messi’s relationship with his homeland has been a fractious one at times, but his understanding with current manager Lionel Scaloni appears to be a good one.

 

Similar to Galtier, Scaloni has built a system around Messi. Argentina have quality ahead of the 35-year-old with Lautaro Martinez most likely to lead the line for the South Americans at the 2022 World Cup. Messi will also have the likes of Angel di Maria, Giovani Lo Celso and Julian Alvarez for support around him in the attacking third.

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“The important thing is that he is well, that he is comfortable, that he enjoys playing football,” Scaloni said when asked how important it is to have a fit and in-form Messi. “If he doesn’t enjoy it, it’s bad. I think he is enjoying himself on his team. That’s important. Everyone enjoys seeing him on the pitch The more he enjoys, the more we all enjoy it. I see him well; I see him happy. I hope he continues like this.”

 

Argentina ended a long 28-year wait for a major trophy victory by winning the Copa America last summer and that experience could help Messi and his teammates at this winter’s World Cup. This is a team that already knows how to win at the top level of the international game. They have a structure and a plan.

 

If Argentina have any grounds to feel uncertain about their World Cup chances, it’s only because they haven’t played many European teams since the last World Cup. Indeed, Argentina have faced just two non-CONMEBOL sides since Russia 2018. Scaloni must look enviously at the preparation European teams have through qualification and the Nations League.

 

Nonetheless, Argentina claimed a 3-0 win over Italy in the Copa Finalissima – a match between the winners of the Euros and Copa America – and have followed it up with a series of impressive performances in warm-up matches, including last week’s 3-0 win over Honduras. Messi has timed his return to form well, but Argentina are about more than just the 35-year-old’s brilliance. That could be the difference.

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