By: Madison Parham
The World Cup in Russia is just 2 weeks away and the pressure is already mounting on one of the game’s best.
At the age of 30, Lionel Messi is already one of the biggest names in sports.
He has won soccer’s highest individual award, the Ballon d’Or, a record five times while leading FC Barcelona to four Champions League titles and nine Spanish league titles.
Messi’s career at FC Barcelona has also seen him win the UEFA Super Cup three times, the Spanish Cup six times, and the Spanish Super Cup seven times. These accolades, combined with the sixteen times he has led the league in scoring, have led numerous people to believe that Messi is the greatest soccer player ever.
Those who disagree seem to always bring up the same question: “What has he won on an international level?” and the answer is, not much.
During his time with the Argentine national team, Messi’s only international honor is a 2008 Olympic gold medal, which in the soccer world isn’t worth a lot.
He and his team have seen defeat in three Copa America finals and one World Cup final. After losing in a penalty shootout to Chile in the 2016 Copa America final, Messi announced his retirement from his international duty causing a stir among fans.
“For me, the national team is over. I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion,” he said after the loss. “It was the thing I wanted most, but I couldn’t get it, so I think it’s over.”
Despite his assurance that the decision was made and there would be no going back, he decided to return for the 2018 World Cup.
He revealed that he made his initial decision to retire in the heat of the moment and had not really thought it through. In an interview with DirectTV Sports, Messi said that he is looking at international duty differently now.
At 30 years old, I now enjoy it much more than I did before. I take advantage of every moment both on and off the pitch. I am experiencing this period with the national team in a different way. I am more relaxed.
So what will be different this time for Lionel Messi?
Again, not much.
He will be expected to carry the team once more, leaving only his name to tarnish should Argentina fail again. Messi made the difference in the World Cup qualifiers as Argentina barely snuck in. His hat trick performance secured a mandatory win on the final match day of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) qualifying.
Unfortunately coaching woes struck Argentina as two head coaches stepped down during qualifiers before Jorge Sampaoli led them through the last day of competition. This left Sampaoli with roughly eighty days to finalize his team and get them ready for the World Cup. With a subpar defense and an inconsistent midfield, it can only be assumed that Sampaoli will rely heavily on Messi and the loaded attacking front to advance his team deep into the World Cup.
Argentina is set to start group play on June 16 against Iceland where they will then play Croatia on June 21 and Nigeria on June 26. Though it is by no means the “group of death,” this will still be a challenging task for Messi and Argentina to take on. Iceland proved they can hang with the best when they put England out of the 2016 Euros, Croatia has an abundance of talent, and Nigeria has already embarrassed Argentina with a 4-2 win in the past year. Anything can happen with this group, and for Messi this could be it.
“We feel that it’s now or never because this could be the last for this group of players,” Messi told Sports Illustrated. “[The players] have a debt with ourselves. We don’t owe the fans anything because we always give our 100 percent.”