Lionel Messi’s dream of equaling the Argentine legacy of the late great Diego Maradona remains alive today. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner shared eight World Cup goals with Maradona and made a record 21 appearances in the tournament for his country on Saturday.
Messi’s stunning low strike from outside the box sealed a 2-0 win over Mexico to propel them to second place in Group C, just as their hopes of victory were beginning to fade and fears began to creep in. Argentina’s talisman is two goals short of their World Cup top scorer Gabriel Batistuta’s 10 goals, but their winner should get more chances to topple “Batigol” in Qatar.
The real dream is emulating Maradona’s 1986 World Cup triumph, but Messi can satisfy himself by equaling Maradona’s World Cup appearances and goals record two years and one day after ‘El Pelusa’ passed away.
The curly-haired playmaker inspired Argentina to victory in Mexico in 1986, as well as playing in the 1982, 1990 and 1994 editions.
Some insist Messi can’t be considered the greatest until he lifts the trophy, and in Argentina, Maradona’s shining World Cup legacy often helps his comparisons, Messi’s near-perfection winning against is his flawed genius.
Maradona scored five and set up another five as Argentina won their second World Cup trophy in Mexico 36 years earlier.
Messi was born almost a year later, but the Argentine has yet to lift a trophy in his lifetime.
The captain of the Albiceleste led the team to a second-place finish in 2014, with Argentina losing 1–0 in extra time against Germany in the Rio de Janeiro final.
Paris Saint-Germain’s number 10, playing in his fifth World Cup, converted the penalty in Argentina’s opener but they crashed to a shock defeat to Saudi Arabia.
Against Mexico he sporadically came to life but his team was largely smothered by their energetic opponents.
Argentina’s frustration mounted early in the second half when Messi sent a free-kick over the crossbar from a dangerous position.
They finally broke the deadlock in the 64th minute, finishing exquisitely out of reach of Mexican cult hero Guillermo Ochoa, Enzo Fernández added a superb second late on.
Maradona scored only 15 goals for Argentina in 41 competitive appearances, while Messi scored 49 in 115, but few have propelled him to World Cup glory.
– Competing histories –
Following an elimination in the second group stage in Spain in 1982, Maradona returned with a vengeance four years later.
He produced one of the most celebrated performances in football history against England in the quarter-finals.
After opening the scoring with an infamous “Hand of God” punch on England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the stocky attacker scored an all-time great goal with a superb solo dribble.
Another brace followed against Belgium in the semi-finals and Maradona provided an assist in a 3–2 final victory over West Germany in what was perhaps the nation’s finest sporting moment.
In 1990, Maradona led Argentina to the final but they lost 1–0 against West Germany.
A wildly ecstatic celebration after scoring at the 1994 World Cup became an enduring image – Maradona failed a drugs test and was sent home after two games.
Messi, who this week became the first Argentine player to score in four World Cups, made his debut as a teenager in the 2006 tournament against Serbia and Montenegro.
He was an unused substitute as Germany eliminated Argentina in the quarter-finals, then suffered a 4–0 defeat by the same opponents at the same stage in 2010.
Germany again thwarted Messi at the final hurdle in 2014 and France knocked them out in the last 16 in 2018, with the playmaker scoring two goals in a 4-3 defeat.
Messi, who has never scored in a World Cup knock-out encounter and has scored two goals in two games this year, and has struck in each of Argentina’s last six games, it could be his time.
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