The Paris St. Germain attacker, now 35 years old, has appeared 19 times for Argentina in four different World Cups, scoring six goals and assisting on five more in the process.
After leading his team to the Copa America victory in 2021 as captain, Messi’s only remaining major medal is the World Cup, which he has yet to win after previously earning a silver medal in 2014.
Speaking to ESPN, Messi highlighted that he’s counting down the days to what shall be his final World Cup appearance. He says there is anxiety and nerves, continuously asking himself what will happen and who will emerge on top.
Messi first picked up a football in his early years, and in 1995, he signed up with the youth squad of Newell’s Old Boys, a Rosario-based first-division club. Messi’s extraordinary talent attracted the interest of elite teams on both banks of the Atlantic. He and his family moved to Barcelona when he was 13 and immediately joined FC Barcelona‘s youth squad. At the age of 16, Messi made his unofficial debut appearance with FC Barcelona in a friendly fixture after scoring 21 goals in 14 games with the junior team.
Messi, at the age of 17, made history in the 2004–05 Spanish La Liga season by becoming the league’s youngest recognised player and scorer. Though short in stature at 5 feet and 7 inches and weighing just 148 pounds, he showed strength, agility, and versatility on the pitch. Messi was a gifted ball distributor and easily sliced through crowded opposition teams thanks to his immensely quick natural left foot, athleticism, and command of the ball. He was awarded Spanish citizenship in 2005, which elicited mixed reactions from Barcelona’s staunchly Catalan fans.
While Messi had professional and personal triumphs in Spain, he maintained close links to his native Argentina and played an important role at many levels of the national team.
In 2005, he was a member of Argentina’s winning FIFA World Youth Championship team; in 2006, he competed for his nation in the World Cup; and in 2008, he helped Argentina win the Olympic gold medal with two goals in five games. Messi led Argentina to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2010, when they were eventually defeated by Germany. The prolific striker put on yet another spectacular show in the 2014 World Cup, scoring four goals and almost single-handedly carrying an offensively inept Argentina squad through the group stage and into the knockout stages, where Argentina eventually reached the World Cup final for the very first time in 24 years. Even though Argentina lost the game 1-0 to Germany, Messi was named the competition’s best player and awarded the Golden Ball. In total, he scored 90 goals for Argentina’s national team, surpassing Gabriel Batistuta’s previous record set at the 2016 Copa América Centenario.
Argentina’s third and fourth straight finals losses in major tournaments came at the hands of Chile, despite online betting in Australia picking the Albicelestes to go all the way in both 2015 and 2016. At that time, Messi proclaimed his retirement from international play; nevertheless, his stint endured for just under two months until he confirmed his comeback to the Argentine national team. He was a key contributor to Argentina’s run to the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup, when they were ultimately defeated by eventual winner France. As a follow-up to Argentina’s third-place performance at the 2019 Copa América, Messi led the national team to a title and the Golden Ball in 2021.
With his fifth World Cup appearance, he will break the previous best for an Argentina player, which he shared with Diego Maradona and Javier Mascherano. The World Cup begins on November 20th, and Argentina, now rated third in the world by FIFA, will compete in Group C against Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Poland.