Words by Siddharth Nair

Midway through the second half, Lucas Biglia played a cute through ball to Lionel Messi, as the best player in the world charged towards Manuel Neuer’s goal in the 2014 World Cup final. The whole stadium took a huge intake of breath, as everyone expected Messi to beat the keeper and ripple the net. While Messi did beat Neuer, he dragged the shot a little wide off the mark, as the little genius put his head in hands and wondered how he did not score the goal.

Messi would eventually rue that miss, as Mario Gotze’s winner in extra time was good enough to give Germany their fourth World Cup and leave Argentina’s number ten wondering if he will ever get the chance to lift the World Cup. The World Cup has remained elusive for Messi, as some people feel that it is the only thing standing in between him and a place in football’s Mount Rushmore. While there are many who believe that the Argentine does not need the World Cup, the lack of the biggest trophy in world football would have been a glaring miss in the legendary career of Lionel Messi.

For Argentina, and Messi in particular, comparisons between him and the great Diego Maradona have raged for over a decade. Maradona’s zenith was his World Cup triumph in 1986, as he single-handedly took an average Argentina side and made them world champions. Messi, on the other hand, has failed to do so, in spite of having a stellar support cast around him.

The likes of Mascherano, Tevez, Aguero and Di Maria are brilliant players themselves, but for some reason or the other, have been unable to win any silverware with the national team. The local fans have unfairly turned on Messi over the years, as they believe his inability to show his best with Argentina is almost like a slap in their face. This also adds up to the fact that Messi does not have a real connection with the fans, as the passionate Argentine fans curiously do not adore the little genius as they should.

While Messi is treated like a god at the Nou Camp, he often feels like an outsider in the national team, with the local fans showering more love to the likes of Carlos Tevez as opposed to their number ten. What was supposed to be a magical relationship has often felt like a strained one, as Messi even quit the national team a couple of years back after yet another defeat in the Copa America final.

A look into Argentina’s World Cup Squad

A look into Argentina’s World Cup Squad

Messi missed his penalty kick in the final shootout, as the distraught champion decided to abruptly retire from the game, as the pain of not lifting a trophy with Argentina was too much for him to bear. Argentina’s captain eventually made a U-turn a couple of months later, as he marked his comeback match with yet another goal. Amazingly, there were many people who were quite content with Messi quitting the national team, as they felt that Argentina were probably better off without him.  But it was his match-winning performance in a must-win World Cup qualifier against Ecuador which truly established his name as a national hero. Argentina were on the brink of elimination from the World Cup, as a terrible qualification campaign saw them face a must-win match away to Ecuador.

Argentina had a nightmare start, as they conceded a goal within the first minute of the game, prompting journalists to start writing the obituaries of the national team. With Argentina desperately looking for a hero, Lionel Messi stepped up and scored an incredible hat-trick to secure his country’s passage into Russia. Messi finally won over his countrymen, as Argentina truly embraced the little genius as one of their very own. But there is still the little matter of lifting the World Cup in a few weeks’ time.

Cometh the hour, Cometh the Messiah

Now that he has his chance, can Messi finally win the World Cup for his country?

No one gave Ronaldo’s Portugal any chance of lifting the Euros a couple of years back, but they managed to do so in the end. A footballing god in his own right, Cristiano inspired his team went the going was tough and scored crucial goals which took his team all the way to the final.

The odds will be stacked against Argentina in Russia, as their fragmented team will come under severe pressure against some extremely well-oiled teams in the tournament. But with Messi on their side, Argentina will believe that they have half a chance in what will certainly be Messi’s last chance to win the trophy.

No one knows this more than Messi himself, as the great man prepares for his fourth World Cup. After coming so close four years ago, Messi must surely have nightmares of his missed opportunity. But after a heroic performance against Ecuador, Messi now has the chance to right a wrong in his mind.

In all honesty, Messi’s greatness will not be diminished if he does not win a World Cup. But for someone who has given world football so many magical moments over the years, the absence of a World Cup trophy will surely haunt the Argentine genius.

Sachin Tendulkar finally won a World Cup in his last chance in 2011, as the greatest batsman of all time managed to fulfil his destiny just when all hope seemed lost.

Will 2018 be the year Lionel Messi fulfils his destiny?

Feature Image via Tribuna

Image 1 via  Barca Blaugranes

To read World Cup Group Previews click here.

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