Lionel Messi is a legend and will forever be so, even though millions of football fans won’t see him at any FIFA World Cup after 2022 — a tournament he won to forever settle the GOAT debate. His career achievements at the club level, certainly make Lionel Messi worthy of being called the greatest of all time by his fans, but bringing laurels for the country, Argentina, is an altogether different emotion.
Like the Argentine great Diego Maradona, Messi finally got the most coveted title of his life — a FIFA World Cup. Messi, therefore, ensured that history will remember him as one of the greatest athletes in the world of the 21st century. In the eyes of the new generation, he would perhaps be hailed even above Maradona as the greatest Argentine ever to don the national jersey.
The Qatar tournament was Messi’s last World Cup and his last attempt at football immortality. The Argentine, who wears the No.10 jersey for both his national side and club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), has made it clear that he won’t play at the next edition which is to be hosted jointly by Canada, Mexico and the United States.
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After winning the semi-final match against Croatia on 13 December, Messi told Argentine media outlet Diario Deportivo Ole that the final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be his last game at the quadrennial tournament.
“I feel very happy, to be able to achieve this, to finish my World Cup journey by playing my last game in a final,” Messi said, adding, “It’s many years for the next one and I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. And to finish like this, it’s the best.”
After winning the World Cup, Messi again hinted that the Qatar edition was his last but that he would play for Argentina in some more matches.
“Obviously I wanted to complete my career with this – I can’t ask for more. Finishing my career this way is impressive. After this, what else? I have a Copa América, a World Cup, almost at the very end,” he said, according to The Guardian.
“I love football, what I do. I enjoy being part of the national team, the group. I want to enjoy a couple more matches being a world champion,” added Messi.
The records that Lionel Messi has for club and country
The richest footballer in the world as per Forbes’ list of world’s highest-paid athletes 2022, Messi has nothing left to prove in the world of football at the club level.
He is a seven-time record winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or, which is one of Messi’s Guinness World Records. He is the first footballer to be awarded the Laureus Award for Best Sportsman of the Year award. He has won 10 La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles, three FIFA Club World Cup trophies, seven Copa del Rey titles, three UEFA Super Cup titles, and six European Golden Shoe awards among many other accolades as a player for La Liga club Barcelona. He has also won the French league for PSG and was also named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009.
Yet he struggled for years to add major international trophies to his glittering cabinet with the Argentina national team, nicknamed La Albiceleste. In fact, he had already announced his retirement from international football in 2016 after failing to win the Copa América that year. But he soon reversed his decision and returned to play for Argentina.
In the following six years, Messi did what everyone expected him to do for his country — lead Argentina to major tournament victories including the FIFA World Cup.
He is the all time top scorer of all national teams in South America with 98 goals from 172 appearances. Both the goals and the appearances are the highest by an Argentine for the national side. The goals also make him the third-highest international goal-scorer after Portugal icon Cristiano Ronaldo’s 118 and Iran legend Ali Daei’s 109.
Lionel Messi’s greatest accomplishments with Argentina national team
U-20 World Cup
Messi was only 18 years old when he made a mark on the international stage by helping Argentina win the 2005 U-20 World Cup, officially the 15th edition of the FIFA World Youth Championship, in The Netherlands.
Messi had by then made his debut with the senior team of FC Barcelona. However, he was not included in the starting line-up of Argentina’s first match — which was against USA. Argentina lost 0-1, following which the staff urged coach Francisco Ferraro to let Messi play.
Subsequently, Messi tore through every other team that Argentina faced in the tournament. After qualifying for the knock-out stage, Argentina beat Colombia in the second round 2-1, Spain in the quarter final 3-1 and Brazil in the semi-final 2-1. Messi scored a goal each in all three matches.
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) July 3, 2019
On 2 July 2005, Argentina defeated Nigeria 2-1 to lift the trophy. Both goals came from Messi’s penalty kicks.
Messi was the top scorer of the tournament with six goals, including the one goal he got in the group stage. He also won the MVP Golden Ball award.
It was this tournament win which deepened comparisons between Messi and Maradona, who had won the same competition in 1979.
Lionel Messi’s Olympic gold
Many great players of the beautiful game can’t win an Olympic gold medal. But Messi is one of the two richest footballers who have won it — the other being his PSG team-mate Neymar Jr. of Brazil, who won it at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which was held in 2021.
The gold that Messi earned for Argentina came at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His team won all three matches in its group before knocking out the Netherlands and Brazil to set up its gold-medal clash with Nigeria.
In the final, it was Messi’s brilliant pass to Angel di Maria, who capitalised on it, that confirmed the gold for Argentina as it beat Nigeria 1-0. It was the country’s second consecutive Olympic gold medal in men’s football.
— The Olympic Games (@Olympics) December 13, 2022
Interestingly, Messi would have missed the tournament as Barcelona wanted him to play in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers. But Pep Guardiola, who was then the new manager of the club, convinced the higher authorities at the club to let Messi fly to Beijing.
“The Olympic gold in 2008 is the win that I value the most because it is a tournament that you may play only once in your life and involves many athletes from different disciplines,” Messi had told Spanish Esquire during an interview in 2017.
2014 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball
The 2014 FIFA World Cup was held in Brazil. It was the third world cup in which Messi played. Though he first captained the team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when he briefly took over the duties from full-time Javier Mascherano during a group match, the 2014 edition was his first as the officially named captain of Argentina national team.
The tournament was hugely significant for Messi. He failed to score in the 2010 edition and a lot was riding on his shoulders four years down the line.
Messi was immensely influential in Argentina’s race at the tournament. He scored four goals in the three group matches for Argentina, which helped his side win all and top the group. He could not score in any of the subsequent matches, but the team went on beating opponents in the knock-out stage to enter the final against Germany.
Despite Messi’s heroics, Germany won 1-0 on the back of a brilliant goal by Mario Götze in extra time.
The Argentine wasn’t the top scorer of the tournament. With four goals he was behind Germany’s Thomas Müller (5) and Colombia’s James Rodríguez (6), who won the Golden Boot at the tournament. But Messi won the Golden Ball for his overall performance.
Copa América 2021
Ronaldo, Messi’s greatest rival, led his side to victory in two of the biggest international tournaments in Europe — UEFA Euro 2016 and the 2019 UEFA Nations League. Several football fans at the time pointed out that while Ronaldo had won two international trophies for his country, Messi had failed to win any. But all of that changed in 2021 when Messi led Argentina to Copa América victory.
Messi launched Argentina’s campaign in style, with a free-kick in a 1-1 draw against Chile in their group encounter at the tournament held by CONMEBOL — the governing body of South American football.
His team then defeated the next three opponents to enter the quarterfinal round, including Bolivia 4-1 in which Messi scored a brace.
In the knock-out stage, Argentina beat Ecuador 3-0 on the back of two assists and a goal by Messi. They triumphed over Colombia in penalties to enter the final match against Brazil, whom the La Albiceleste beat 1-0 to win the trophy.
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) July 11, 2021
It was Argentina’s 15th Copa América title, making them the joint record holders with the most championships with Uruguay. For Argentina, the win ended a 28-year drought for a major title.
It also marked a special moment for Lionel Messi as it was his first major international trophy as an Argentina player out of the 10 major tournaments he had played in till then. He was the joint top scorer at the tournament with Luis Díaz of Colombia. He was also named the best player of Copa América 2021 for his four goals and five assists.
Finalissima 2022 was the third edition of the CONMEBOL–UEFA Cup of Champions. The special tournament was held only twice before — in 1985 and 1993.
The third edition, seen as a revival of the tournament, was played between Copa América 2021 Argentina and UEFA Euro 2020 (held in 2021) winner Italy at England’s Wembley Stadium.
Argentina drubbed Italy 3-0. Messi didn’t score but was involved in two assists. It was also only the second major tournament win for Messi at Wembley Stadium, where he had won the UEFA Champions League in 2011 as a player for Barcelona.
🏆🇦🇷 ¡La caminata de la gloria!
— Copa América (@CopaAmerica) June 1, 2022
The win was so significant that Argentina celebrated it like a World Cup victory and hoisted Messi up in the air.
2022 FIFA World Cup champion
Backed by Lionel Messi’s outstanding performance, Argentina entered the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Qatar with a considerable chance of success in winning the tournament. He created history and, to many, set the debate around the GOAT to rest by leading his team to championship victory — the third for Argentina.
Messi was awarded the Golden Ball of the tournament for his performance. He scored seven goals, only behind France’s young striker Kylian Mbappé, and assisted in three more.
Interestingly, Argentina’s group stage start came with one of the biggest ever upsets at World Cup tournaments — a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia. Messi was the sole goal scorer for his team.
Both Messi and his team bounced back immediately, defeating Mexico and Poland to top their group. Messi scored his second goal at the tournament against Mexico.
Messi scripted history in the next three matches at the tournament. He got his third goal of the tournament in Argentina’s 2-1 win against Australia in the round of 16. He scored against the Netherlands in the quarter-final match and surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as the all-time top-scorer for Argentina at FIFA World Cup tournaments with 11 goals after scoring from a penalty in the semi-final match against Croatia.
He scored two goals in the final match, which also marked his last World Cup appearance. Altogether, Messi now has 13 goals in World Cups — tied with French great Just Fontaine and one more than Pelé.
Messi became the first player in history with 10 Player of the Match awards at the World Cup tournaments after winning his fourth in the 2022 edition following the win against Croatia. He extended that record to 11 with the win in the final against France.
Messi is also the oldest male player to score five or more goals in a single FIFA World Cup tournament. With his 26th World Cup appearance in the final, he also broke German great Lothar Matthäus’ record of most World Cup appearances.
(Main and Featured image credit: FIFA World Cup/@FIFAWorldCup/Twitter)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Yes, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is Lionel Messi's last at the prestigious tournament. He will possibly play for Argentina in other tournaments and continue his club career.
Answer: Messi is the strongest contender for the FIFA World Cup championship as of now. His performance at the 2022 edition has been incredible.