Lionel Messi earned a place in history by lifting the FIFA World Cup 2022 trophy in Qatar last week, with Argentina narrowly defeating France in a thrilling final at the Lusail Stadium. The World Cup trophy had been the only major missing piece in the 35-year-old’s distinguished career, and winning the trophy cemented the Argentinian captain’s legacy for generations to come.
With action now shifting to league football for the next few months, here’s a look at Lionel Messi’s greatest games with Argentina:
#5: Argentina vs Serbia, 2006
Lionel Messi made his World Cup debut in 2006 when Jose Pekerman recognised the young Messi’s talents and made him a regular part of Argentina’s friendlies before the tournament. The teenage Messi was given his debut as a substitute in Argentina’s group stage game against Serbia and Montenegro – with the Albiceleste already in control of the match with a 3-0 lead.
Coming onto the field in the 74th minute, Lionel Messi made an immediate impact on the game, assisting Hernan Crespo to give his team their fourth goal. He would later add another goal to the team’s tally in the last minutes of the game with a right-footed finish. It was one of Argentina’s finest group-stage performances, but they had to head back home after succumbing to hosts Germany in the quarter-finals.
#4: Argentina vs Nigeria, 2008
Just two years later, Lionel Messi became an integral part of Argentina’s starting XI. But three quarter-final exits from major tournaments and the humiliation at the hands of Brazil in the Copa America final in 2007 tested Messi’s resolve with the team. There was behind-the-curtains drama too, with Barcelona reluctant to relieve Messi of his club duties for the Olympics. Pep Guardiola’s intervention allowed the 21-year-old to join the national team just in time for the event.
Donning the No. 15 shirt, Lionel Messi opened the tally for Argentina in their opening game against Ivory Coast and later provided an assist to Lautaro Acosta to help Argentina win their opening fixture. His finest moment of the tournament came in the quarter-finals against the Netherlands, as he raced past the Dutch defenders in the 14th minute to fire a goal from a tight angle.
Argentina breezed past Brazil in the semi-finals and faced a relatively easy challenge from Nigeria in the finals. Messi set up a brilliant pass from inside his half to Angel Di Maria, who converted it into the only goal of the game. The 2008 Olympic Gold remained the only major achievement for Lionel Messi until the 2021 Copa America win, and as a result, it remains one of his most cherished moments.
#3: Argentina vs Brazil, 2012
Any contest between Argentina and Brazil always brings the best out of players on both sides, with the high stakes of the game demanding every available bit of energy from the teams. But one of Lionel Messi’s finest performances of his career came not in a competitive game, but in an international friendly between the arch-rivals – at New York’s MetLife Stadium in 2012.
What was supposed to be a laid-back fixture turned out to be a seven-goal thriller, with Lionel Messi scoring a hat-trick to clinch the victory for Argentina. Brazil came back into the game every time Argentina forged ahead, with Lionel Messi scoring one of the finest goals of his career in the 84th minute by running from the centre and finishing with a superb shot from outside the penalty box.
The hat trick was the second in three games for Lionel Messi with his national side, but he could not continue the same form in the London Olympics held the next year.
#2: Argentina vs Brazil, 2021
After almost a decade of heartbreak, Argentina’s victory in the Copa America final in 2021 was a moment of national celebration. The final against Brazil was by no means close to Lionel Messi’s best games in his career, but it is certainly one of his most memorable ones due to the importance of the occasion. And the goal once again came from his partner in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing – Angel Di Maria.
The Copa America trophy was mostly dedicated to Argentina’s captain by the entire squad, with Messi collapsing to the ground with tears of joy as the final whistle blew. He was their main man in the tournament, scoring the most number of goals to clinch the Golden Boot and inspiring his team with his energy on the field.
Argentina’s transformation under Lionel Scaloni was now complete, and the focus now turned to winning the elusive World Cup trophy after a gap of 36 years.
#1: Argentina vs France, 2022
As Gonzalo Montiel scored the fourth penalty for Argentina, Lionel Messi collapsed where he stood – with relief visible in his eyes. A long-sought-after prize was now finally his, and the burden of bringing the trophy back to Argentina has now been lifted from his shoulders. In one of the most epic finals in the tournament’s long history, the Albiceleste went through a rollercoaster of emotions, watching Kylian Mbappe nearly take away the trophy from their hands twice in twenty minutes.
While most of the heavy work in the Copa America final was done by Angel Di Maria, it was Lionel Messi who picked up the initiative in the World Cup final. He scored twice for the team – one from the penalty spot and the second just inches from the goal line, but both were a testament to Messi’s genius.
The game against France will go down in history as Lionel Messi’s greatest game for both club and country, not just for his impact on the game with two goals, but also for the glory that accompanies being a world champion.
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