Even after all this time, we’re entering uncharted territory with Lionel Messi. Despite breaking all manner of records during perhaps the most astonishing career in football history, the 34-year-old is still finding new ground to conquer. Indeed, after finally winning the Copa America, Messi has ticked off yet another achievement, international glory, and will now have his sights set on the Qatar World Cup.
To hold his lack of trophies with Argentina against him always seemed like a stretch, particularly given the utter mess their footballing federation have got themselves into over the last few years. However, it’s yet another string to his bow and the scenes across Buenos Aries since winning the tournament seem to suggest the Argentine public are falling back in love with arguably their greatest ever player.
What’s even more exciting is the momentum the Copa America victory can start. With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar just around the corner, Messi could feasibly yet win the greatest prize of them all. Again, to suggest he needs a World Cup win to sit amongst the pantheon of greats would be ridiculous but even the most ardent of keyboard thrashing Cristiano Ronaldo superfans would struggle to downplay the Barcelona star’s standing in the game then.
Argentina certainly won’t enter the competition in Qatar as favourites. Not since Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win has a South American country conquered the world, though Messi’s Argentina did come close in 2014. Still, we are entering the unknown ahead of the controversial showpiece in the Middle East next Christmas.
Never before have we had a tournament like this. Breaking tradition and moving into a mid-season format in a country few will be accustomed to, only recent history tells us that a European team will lift the trophy.
Taking a further step back, there are certainly indications that a South American team will thrive. When the tournament moved to the Far East for the first time, Brazil won it. When it finally made its way to Africa, Argentina made the final.
Of course, is isn’t an exact science and perhaps has little bearing on Argentina’s chances but it’s worth taking into account. This Argentina side is also somewhat comparable to the Portugual team who won Euro 2016, even disgarding the obvious Messi and Ronaldo comparison.
It is a team packed to the rafters with attacking talent but, crucially, one who can keep games tight. During their campaign this summer, they conceded only three times in seven games, although perhaps things could have been different had Emi Martinez not produced a masterclass in the penalty shootout win over Colombia in the semi-finals.
We are not likely to see them play teams off the park but they will certainly contain their opposition and relying on individual quality upfront. Just as that applies to this Argentina team, it’s also a fairly accurate description of Portgual in 2016, France in 2018 and Italy in 2021, with Messi hoping that Argentina will add their name to that list in Qatar next year.
One of the most iconic performances during the 2018 World Cup was Kylian Mbappe tearing through a once-paced Argentina in the quarter-finals, gliding through open spaces as his opposition played a suicidal kamikaze game.
While it’s hard to predict anything in football, everything about their development since would suggest that this team won’t allow that to happen again. They’re functional rather than frenzied and further from fantastic than some of the iconic Albiceleste teams we’ve seen before.
That is a dangerous prospect given what we’ve seen in international football of late. Just like the Qatar World Cup, Messi is entering uncharted territory with Argentina. It really could happen.
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