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Qatar 2022 – Messi’s chance to set up new records at the FIFA World Cup

It was always going to be a FIFA World Cup to remember for Lionel Messi, as the Argentina star made it clear it was always going to be the last dance, the last edition of the competition he was playing in, the last chance of finally settling the debate about his legacy with a trophy on the biggest of stages.

While he was a true star at FC Barcelona and won every possible trophy he could with the Spanish powerhouse, Messi’s career was always overshadowed by the lack of silverware with Argentina, especially as he was always compared with another stalwart, Diego Maradona, whose number 10 shirt was inherited by Messi.

And it all started very wrong, with a 1-2 loss against Saudi Arabia, as Argentina looked clueless and could barely stop the Asian side, in one of their most humiliating losses in history. Only a strong team could have bounced back after it and Lionel Scaloni’s side duly delivered a tournament for the ages at Qatar 2022.

However, Argentina bounced back, are unbeaten since that moment, and now have a date with destiny against Croatia, in the semi-finals, where they can qualify to the final of the FIFA World Cup for the sixth time in history.

“It is something spectacular. After last World Cup, having lost in the Round of 16, it left a bitter feeling. Now, being among the best four again is something very nice for us, for the people, for the country, for Argentina, for Argentinian soccer. We will try to continue taking steps and win the trophy now,” said Messi in an interview for Argentinian newspaper “Ole”.

Indeed, no individual record or award could even motivate Messi more than the chance to win the big trophy, as only two matches separate one of the greatest players from all time to secure it. If he could, he would probably trade everything in one second.

But that’s only a hypothetical situation. Messi is one of the all-time greats of football and that is surely the case at the FIFA World Cup, where he will become the player with the largest number of appearances, 26, provided he features in both matches Argentina play this week, the semi-final against Croatia and either the final or the third-place play-off.

The record was held by German stalwart Lotthar Matthaus with 25 matches, as Messi entered the competition with 19 matches, but ensured a chance to beat it with an excellent performance in the competition. Messi is also one of the six players to have featured at six different editions of the competition, alongside Antonio Carbajal, Lothar Matthaus, Rafa Marquez, Andres Guardado and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Paolo Maldini holds the record for the most minutes played in the World Cup: 2,217. Messi is on 2,104 and could break the record if Argentina’s semi-final against Croatia goes to extra-time, but only one appearance will make Messi the player with the largest number of matches played as a captain, beating Mexico’s Rafael Marquez, who has 18 games in this position.

While the top goal scorer record might be impossible to beat, as Miroslav Klose still has a six-goal advantage over Messi, the Argentina star has truly embraced has qualities at Qatar 2022, scoring against both Australia and the Netherlands in the last two matches, his first-ever goals in the knockout phase of the competition.

Klose also holds the record for the number of wins he played in the competition, 17, while Messi can tie it if Argentina win the trophy, as he is only two wins shy of the record, with 15 wins under his belt.

One goal will also make Messi the top scorer for Argentina at the FIFA World Cup, as he is now tied with striker Gabriel Batistuta, with both players scoring 10 goals in the competition for the South American side.

“I knew that and I am happy to be alongside him, one of the greatest strikers to have ever played for Argentina,” added Messi.

Not only Messi became the top goal scorer, but also the best assist provider at the FIFA World Cup, with nine goals set up, while also becoming the only player to register an assist in five World Cups.

These excellent games brought Messi nine Player of the Match trophies, a record in the competition since the award has been created in 2002, with only Cristiano Ronaldo coming close, with seven trophies under his name.

But all in all, records mean nothing if the biggest prize is not secured. Now, Messi has the chance to do it, eight years removed after losing a final against Germany, in extra time, leaving him in tears and providing countless of sleepless nights. Qatar 2022 might just be that moment.

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