After guiding Argentina to a comprehensive 3-0 win over Croatia in Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal, Lionel Messi have stated that this Sunday’s World Cup final against France will be his last ever match in the competition – effectively turning Argentina’s showdown against the defending world champions into his World Cup swansong.
Since the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the narrative has been whether 35-year old Paris Saint-Germain attacker Messi – widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest ever players – is able to finally capture the World Cup title for Argentina, the only major honor that has so far eluded him.
Having played in five editions of the World Cup – including this one – Messi knew that his aging legs would be far too worn out once the 2026 edition of the tournament comes around, effectively making Qatar 2022 his last chance in finally guiding Argentina to the World Cup title for the first time since Diego Maradona’s class of 1986.
And it was most fitting that Messi’s opponent in this year’s World Cup final will be France, who has Kylian Mbappe as their ace. Long regarded as one of the potential successors to Messi, Sunday’s showdown will see whether the pretender Mbappe will once again enjoy World Cup glory, or will La Pulga will finally win the very honor that he has yet to accomplish as a player.
Despite being in the wrong side of his thirties, Messi has shown time and time again that he still has it as one of the “greatest of all time.”
Saudi Arabia may have dented Argentina’s World Cup campaign early in the group stage with a shock 2-1 win, however La Albiceleste did not look back even once after that setback, beating Mexico and Poland to qualify out of Group C as group winners, before squeaking past Australia in the round of 16, edging out the Netherlands on penalties in the quarterfinals, before demolishing Croatia in the semifinals.
And in all of those matches bar the Polish one, Messi made huge contributions to his side’s victory, either by creating critical assists or scoring important goals. Even in the match against Poland, where Messi did not score nor create an assist, La Pulga still impressed with his dribbles and chance creations.
En route in guiding Argentina to their second World Cup final in three competitions, Messi equaled Lothar Matthaus’s 25 World Cup match appearances, became his country’s outright top scorer in the competition with 11 goals, equaled the World Cup most assists record with eight, and became the first player to score and assist in four separate World Cup matches since 1996.
Fittingly, Messi surpassed and equaled two Argentine legends with his goals and assist tally – surpassing Gabriel Batistuta’s 10 World Cup goals and equaling Maradona’s eight World Cup assists.
Having suffered heartbreak in losing the 2014 World Cup final to Germany, Messi will be determined to make things right in his swansong on Sunday, where he and his Argentina side will take on a France side seeking to become the first nation to successfully defend the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.
And as if realizing that this was his last chance of winning the only major honor that he has yet to won so far, Messi spoke after the Croatia match that the final against France will be his last ever World Cup match.
“I am very happy for finishing my journey in World Cups in a final, to play the last game in a final. That is really very gratifying,” said Messi, as quoted from BBC Sport, “Everything I lived in this World Cup has been emotional, seeing how much it has been enjoyed in Argentina. There are a lot of years from this year to the next one. I don’t think I will be able to do that. To finish this way is brilliant.”
Throughout his illustrious career, Messi has won seven Ballon d’Ors, four UEFA Champions Leagues, 11 top-flight titles in both Spain and France, as well as the 2021 Copa America. La Pulga made his international debut back in 2005 as an 18-year old and scored 97 goals from 172 games in all competitions, being the first Argentina player to score in four different World Cups as well as being one of the six men who have played in five World Cup editions.
Messi briefly retired from international duty back in 2016 after losing that year’s Copa America final, only to swiftly reverse his decision. Messi will certainly not regret his decision to return to the national team, as he has one final chance of clinching the elusive World Cup title right at the twilight of his career.