The World Cup is underway and for Lionel Messi the time is now if he’s going to cap off the most spectacular of careers.
The 35-year-old is in the autumn of his career and this is his last chance to secure that elusive World Cup winners’ medal.
Having won just about everything there is to win in the game, seeing his beloved Argentina to glory in Qatar would be the cherry on the on the cake for a player who will already go down as arguably the greatest of all time.
His rival for that title is Cristiano Ronaldo who has made headlines of his own in recent weeks, but not for the reasons that he’d wish.
Amazingly, neither Messi or Ronaldo have ever scored a goal in the knockout stages of the competition, something that they will be determined to put right to help their nations to the ultimate prize in world football.
While the Portugal star isn’t exactly at the top of his game going into the tournament, Messi will be hoping that a fine season with Paris Saint-Germain can ensure his fifth World Cup campaign gets off to the best possible start, starting against Saudi Arabia.
A big arrival
Messi’s first World Cup experience came in 2006 when he he became the youngest player to represent Argentina at a World Cup when he came off the bench in just the 75th minute of their second group game against Serbia and Montenegro.
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Grabbing an assist and a goal in a 6-0 win for Argentina was the perfect way to announce himself on the grandest stage of all, however his experiences in that tournament were limited.
Despite making his first World Cup start against the Netherlands in their final group game, Messi played just 121 minutes of action for his country that summer, leaving the Barcelona prodigy with a real point to prove.
However, with five chances created in that time, the world had certainly sat up and taken notice.
A victim of his own success
Messi came into the 2010 World Cup as one of the best players in the world and, as a result, the forward faced heightened expectations.
Fresh from scoring 34 goals for Barcelona in the 2009/10 campaign, Messi was tipped to take the competition by the scruff of the neck, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
The forward racked up a competition-most shots with 29 and created 16 opportunities for his teammates but ended the competition with no goals to his name and just one solitary assist.
Despite playing every minute of Argentina’s five games leading up to the quarter-finals, Messi couldn’t help his country as they were dumped out of the competition thanks to a 4-0 thrashing from Germany.
The prime years
Entering the 2014 World Cup at the age of 27, Messi was on top of his game and feeling confident going into the tournament in Brazil.
Netting four goals against Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria in the Group Stage, no player scored more than Messi in the competition’s opening round that year.
While he never found the net again in the 2014 competition, Messi led Argentina all the way to the World Cup final where they were beaten by Germany for the third World Cup on the trot.
Despite the competition being a case of so near, yet so far, the forward was excellent on an individual level with four goals and an assist, while he topped the charts for chances created (23), chances created from open play (17), dribbles (46/76), carries (165) and passes played into the penalty area (61).
A premature exit
Looking to right the wrongs of the last tournament at Brazil 2014, Messi was keen to see Argentina one step further when they travelled to Russia.
Unfortunately, it was a competition that ended in misery with the South American nation dumped out in the Group Stage.
Things got off to the worst possible start when Messi had a penalty saved in the 1-1 draw with Iceland, before failing to register a single shot on target in a 3-0 loss to Croatia, the only time that he’s ever done had that misfortune.
Despite heading home early with Argentina, the forward notched a goal and two assists, while managing an impressive 18 shots in those matches and 10 chances created.