The largest number of appearances in a match at the FIFA World Cup. The largest number of minutes played in the competition. The most Man of the Match awards. The most Golden Ball awards. And, now, after Qatar 2022, the big trophy. Lionel Messi finally got his legacy written and he did feel ecstatic after lifting the trophy.
He took the trophy from Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and the FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, cherished it, and spent minutes with it in his arms. He finally got his wish, he finally went, gave all on the pitch and clinched it. Now, he is not an outcast, a player that could have easily retired from international football after the disappointment at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Lionel Messi, world champion. This is not how exactly he will be remembered, but it will be one title that nobody will take from him, another piece of puzzle of his legacy, one less critic for his detractors to use when talking about what Messi did for the world of football.
For the past four editions of the FIFA World Cup, Messi was seen as an afterthought, even a failure, as he did not score a single goal in the knockout phases of the competition. At Qatar 2022, he not only lifted Argentina to the title, he became the first player ever to score in each and every game of the knockout round – in the Round of 16 against Australia, in the quarter-finals against the Netherlands, in the semi-final against Croatia and in the final against France.
In just two weeks, Messi completed his legacy with a stellar performance, including a brace in the final against France, where he also had a converted penalty in the shootout.
As Messi had previously said that this will be the last edition of the FIFA World Cup he ever plays in, he will likely finish with 13 goals scored in 26 matches, an average of a goal in every two games, or 0.50 goals per game, on the fourth place in the top goal scorer standings, three less than Miroslav Klose.
But Qatar 2022 will always be the tournament in which Messi delivered an all time performance, a performance that will always be remembered for its grit and its amazing delivery. Not only Messi scored seven times, one goal more than in his previous four tournaments combined, he played in all the 690 minutes where Argentina featured on the pitch and had also four assists.
He also recorded the largest number of take ons, dribbles and chances created at this edition of the FIFA World Cup, underlining not only his penchant for scoring goals and creating assists, but also securing exactly what was needed for Argentina to win their third World Cup and their first in 36 years.
“It’s impressive that it could end this way. I knew, I knew, that I said it at a time that God was going to give it to me. I had a presentiment that it was going to be this, once again it made me enormously happy,” said Messi after he lifted the World Cup.
This was the 41st trophy in his star-studded career and only the second win Argentina, after securing the 2021 Copa America. He needed to wait, he needed to be patient, he even was close to calling it quits after being the scapegoat for so many Argentina losses in the past.
Yet he needed to be toughened up, to learn from painful losses, to experience all the hard feelings following a loss. In 2014, in Brazil, Argentina were so close, only to concede the trophy after a final lost against Germany in extra time.
“There is nothing after this, what is there going to be? After winning the Copa América and the World Cup, it happened to me almost at the end of my career. But on the other hand I love football, I enjoy what I do, I enjoy playing for Argentina. Everyone wants this, to win the World Cup, it is the dream of any child. I was lucky to have achieved everything in my career and now this is going there to enjoy it with you,” added Messi.
He will probably will not come back for Argentina at the 2026 FIFA World Cup, when the South American side are the reigning champions. He said as much.
“My last game of a World Cup, that people waited for to go and enjoy the game,” said Messi.
And in the toughest of moments for Argentina, indeed he did enjoy. Scoring once to lift them, then again to take the lead in the extra-time. And, finally, just at the buzzer, with a penalty converted in the calmest way possible, leading the way for Argentina in the shootout.
We might have had Messi’s last game in the FIFA World Cup. But what a journey it has been and how did it end…