Russia 2018: the great chance for Messi and Argentina
This summer planet football’s best player will try to win his first World Cup, giving his nation its first world championship in 32 years.
There is no doubt Lionel Messi is the world’s best soccer player, not only of this moment but of the past decade. In fact for many –me included- Messi should be the top player in the history of the sport, above iconic starts like Pelé and Maradona. That said, when counting awards Messi is missing one in his glass cabinet, the World Cup, which has been won once by Maradona and three times by Pelé. In summary, if we focus in results, the element taken in consideration when remembering the history of a sport, Leo can’t matchup with his countryman or with the Brazilian standout.
This summer Messi’s will have his best chance in Russia. After a horrible qualifying tournament, in which Argentina even changed its head coach, taking Jorge Sampaoli the reins of the squad, three goals scored by Messi at Ecuador in the last round secure a spot in Russia 2018. But once the World Cup starts nobody cares how a team got to the tournament, so we can count on Argentina being among the top favorites.
The South Americans will play in a tough Group D, along Croatia, newcomer Iceland and a Nigerian squad that has been matched with Argentina five times in the groups’ round. It is a must to finish in first place, because a very tough France team, that will probably win Group C, will be facing the second place of Group D in the first knockout round.
After scoring only one goal in his first two World Cup appearances, Messi had a very solid 2014 tournament in Brazil despite not being one hundred per cent physically. Argentina was not a dominant squad, but kept advancing until reaching a final game for the first time since 1990. Leo scored four goals and was the star of a team that failed by the same score (1-0) and against the same opponent, Germany, as in 1990. This way Messi lost an excellent chance to reach the all-time planet football summit.
Russia 2018 provides another great opportunity to the world’s top soccer star. It is ironic, but Messi’s and Argentina’s success will rely on the rest of players who perform at his side. No doubt the South American nation has excellent forwards like Mauro Icardi, Paulo Dybala, Ángel Di María, Sergio Agüero or even Gonzalo Higuaín. The key for coach Sampaoli would be to find a balance, surrounding Leo with hard working players that will strengthen Argentina’s defense. It is no easy task, because even in the last round of the qualifying tournament veteran Javier Mascherano was anchoring the team’s backfield, which shows there has not been a generational change in Argentina’s rearguard for years. Anyway if Sampaoli, who succeeded with Chile, hits the right bottom, do not rule out Messi from winning his first World Cup to objectively rewarded as the best soccer player ever.