Legend of Messi: Argentina captain Lionel Messi settles GOAT debate with FIFA World Cup 2022 triumph

Lionel Messi scored in the group stage, the round of 16, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the final, as Argentina edged past France to win the World Cup.

Lionel Messi for Argentina, Credit: Twitter/@FIFAWorldCup
By Karthik Raman | Dec 19, 2022 | 6 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

The 2022 FIFA World Cup final could not have gone any better for Lionel Messi. The little genius from Argentina played a pivotal role in helping his country defeat France in what could very well go down in history as the greatest final of all time. What a match it turned out to be and what a way it came to an end. There were six goals on show in regulation time and a further six goals in the one-sided penalty shootout. In the end, Messi’s fairy tale was accomplished.

The boy wonder came into the World Cup with an in-form Argentine squad that was labeled by many as the favourites to go all the way. However, it did not start according to the plan. They suffered a shock opening match defeat to an unexpected Saudi Arabia. But the Messi-inspired South American nation went on an impressive run to lift the World Cup in one of the most dramatic fashions. In what could very well turn out to be his final World Cup game, Lionel Messi lifted the coveted world trophy, which would surely now settle the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate.

How it began for Lionel Messi?

Lionel Messi, who was born in Rosario, Argentina in 1987, started his football journey at the youth academy of the neighbourhood team Newell’s Old Boys when he was just six years old. At a tender age of 13, FC Barcelona acquired his services. After progressing through the youth level of the Catalan club, Messi made his first-team debut at age 17 in 2004. It was at Camp Nou where Messi attained legendary status.

Read More – FIFA World Cup 2022: Who won Golden Ball, Golden Boot & Man of the Match in final?

During his time with the Spanish club, Messi won a club-record 35 trophies. This included four UEFA Champions Leagues, 10 La Ligas and seven Copa del Rey titles. He was a threat on both domestic and European stages. Be it with scoring goals or creating chances, Messi was Barcelona’s go-to player. He was burdened with the duty of producing goals or goal-scoring chances on the pitch and to Messi’s credit, he never shied away from his responsibilities. The little magician, who stood at 5 ft 7 in, ran the show week-in and week-out, season-in and season-out. 

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In the calendar year 2012, Messi, who was a 25-year-old then, scored a record 91 goals combined in all competitions for Barcelona and the Argentina national team. By doing so, he surpassed the mark of 85 set in 1972 by Gerd Muller for Bayern Munich and Germany. It was one of the several records he broke during his stay with the Catalan giants. He also won numerous individual honours, including a record seven Ballon d’Or awards.

However, he was not able to stay with Barcelona forever. Financial constraints forced Messi to leave his childhood club and join Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2021 as a free agent. He struggled for form in his first season, as Messi could only manage 11 goals and 15 assists in 34 games. However, he started the 2022-23 season on fire by scoring 12 goals and producing 14 assists in just 19 matches before domestic football came to a halt due to the unusual winter World Cup.

How has Lionel Messi performed for Argentina?

One of the criticisms Lionel Messi has always faced was about his form with the national team. Scoring 98 goals in 172 matches for the national side can in no way be regarded as poor. However, many believed Messi was a shadow of his Barcelona self whenever he donned the jersey of Argentina. To make matters worse, Messi kept losing multiple finals with his country.

At one point, even the great Messi couldn’t take it anymore. In the 2016 Copa América Centenario final, Argentina lost to Chile in a penalty shootout. Shortly after Messi, who had missed his penalty from the spot-kick, shook the world by announcing his retirement from the international level. However, the former Barcelona player received overwhelming support from fans in Argentina and across the world to reverse his decision. 

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Thankfully, Messi reversed his decision, as his golden period with Argentina awaited him in the coming years. His time with the national team finally arrived last year. Argentina won the 2021 Copa America by a 1-0 margin over the hosts Brazil, giving Messi his first significant international trophy. Nine of Argentina’s 12 goals were directly the result of Messi’s contributions. As a result, Messi shared the title of player of the tournament with Neymar after scoring four goals and dishing out five assists. With four goals, he tied Colombian Luis Diaz for the most goals scored in the competition. However, Messi was given the Golden Boot since he had more assists than Diaz.

Then came the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Argentina were on an incredible unbeaten run heading into the competition. However, a shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in the opener saw the country surrender their 36-game unbeaten streak. It prompted many pundits to lose their faith in the South American nation’s title challenge. Undeterred by disappointment, Argentina kept marching forward and Lionel Messi was at the heart of it. He became the first player in World Cup history to score in every round of a single edition of the tournament. He scored in the group stage, the round of 16, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the final, as Argentina edged past France to win the World Cup.

Ronaldo and Messi, Credit: Twitter/@LaLiga
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in a file photo, Credit: Twitter/@LaLiga

Lionel Messi settles debate with Cristiano Ronaldo

This World Cup could not have gone any better for Lionel Messi and his supporters. For well over a decade and a half, the debate has been constant – who is better among Messi and Ronaldo. With both players winning numerous individual awards and trophies at club level, they also had one international trophy a piece coming into Qatar. Messi had lifted the 2021 Copa America, while Ronaldo had incredibly guided underdogs Portugal to the 2016 Euros glory by defeating France in the final.

Hence, the stage was set for one of them to steal the show in Qatar. They both started with a goal each in their opening match. However, as the tournament progressed, Ronaldo lost his form and his place in the Starting XI, while Messi continued to play an important role for Argentina. Eventually, Portugal were knocked out in the quarter-finals by surprise package Morocco. On the other hand, Lionel Messi won his second Golden Ball, as he guided Argentina to their third World Cup crown. 

Not to mention that Messi had won his first Golden Ball in 2014 when Argentina lost to Germany in the final. With this triumph, Messi has not only performed at the club level, but also at the international level, and that too on the biggest stage of all. The entire team revolved around Messi in Qatar and the Argentinian did not let down his teammates and supporters, as he scored seven goals and registered three assists. 

It will be difficult to make a case in favour of Ronaldo when it comes to this debate anymore. Messi has well and truly reached the God-level in football. Moreover, Messi has finally reached the heights set by his late country great Diego Maradona with this World Cup triumph. No one can question Lionel Messi’s status in the GOAT debate anymore. He truly is one of the greatest footballer’s to walk on this planet.

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