Elegant, magical, unstoppable, unfathomable, GOAT. Lionel Messi has been all of those superlatives over the years. Indescribable at the best of times, one phrase that does not encapsulate the Argentine is World Cup winner. The fact is, whilst, in recent times, we’ve seen Andreas Iniesta wheel away in pure ecstasy, and too Mario Gotze to pierce Argentine hearts, one small, yet incredibly mighty Messi is yet to have his moment on the biggest stage built for the greatest of players. And so, we are left with one final chance on a stage, which may have become lowered by its venue, but one which remains so desperately in the grasp of greatness.
The question we all have, then, is whether or not this could really be the year; the year that the GOAT undeniably cements that exact status. Dreams have been crushed in football before. Simply put, that is the so-called beautiful game, but it doesn’t have to be. Unlike previous years, this Argentina side doesn’t look full of players hoping to fulfil a fantasy, they look like a side full of expectant players, whose aims are anything but a dream. They are real, and they are very much possible.
Many will ask the questions of why? Why now? What has changed since last time? Well, why not? Why can’t a Copa America-winning Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Rodrigo De Paul, Cristian Romero, and a few more we’ll get to, build the foundation of a side good enough to win the ultimate prize? On paper, it looks like a side capable of securing a confirmation of a place in football history, but we’ve seen Argentina sides like that before, so how has this one fared on the pitch?
In the last 34 games, La Albiceleste haven’t lost a single game, and before people are quick to list off several low-ranked sides, this run has included a whole host of impressive teams. They’ve had wins against current European Champions Italy, as well as Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, whilst holding Germany to a 2-2 draw in 2019. So, when the question arises whether or not this Argentina side are the real deal, all of the evidence points to a resounding yes.
This side are not so Messi-reliant as in the past, either. Martinez is a proven goalscorer these days, whilst Romero and Lisandro Martinez continue to impress in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United respectively. It’s the key balance of quality throughout the entirety of Lionel Scaloni’s side which should prove to be another difference-maker, too. It has helped his side to go 34-games unbeaten, so why not an extra seven? Ease past Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Poland in Group C, and anything can happen.
So, over to you, Lionel Messi. At 35, as eyes once more become fixated on a World Cup surrounded by sheer ugliness, football’s most graceful player has the chance to add a glistening tint to a stage so far from ideal that it has forced even the most casual of football fans to ask the most uncomfortable, yet needed, questions. Whilst rightful controversy grows, the music is set to cue one incredible Argentine’s last, hopeful, dance.