Lionel Messi and Argentina are in serious trouble at the 2018 World Cup. On Thursday Messi’s squad fell to Croatia 3-0 in a second wildly disappointing performance in Russia. As a result, the man who might be the greatest soccer player of all-time has seen his international legacy take a big-time hit.
Messi has largely been invisible for an Argentina team that has desperately needed his usual brilliance. In the team’s opener against Iceland, Messi missed a penalty kick and hasn’t shown the playmaking ability that has made him a legend at F.C. Barcelona. He’s looked a step slow and hasn’t been able to produce the kind of magic that his rival Cristiano Ronaldo has for Portugal.
Other than taking home the U-20 World Cup in 2005 and winning a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, Messi has never taken Argentina to glory on the international stage. La Albiceleste were runners-up at the 2014 World Cup, and at the 2015 and 2016 Copa America. But with Messi as the team’s leader they have never hoisted a trophy at a major international competition.
Arguably the greatest footballer in club competition history has a huge piece missing from his legacy and that’s a major trophy with his international team. Given that Ronaldo took Portugal to a title at Euro 2016, he has a step up on his biggest rival. Plus, Ronaldo has been brilliant in Russia.
Messi is 30 and has already retired from international competition once — albeit briefly. Would he really stick around another four years for another shot during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar at age 34? It’s hard to see that happening. That makes this year’s tournament so much more important to his legacy.
Argentina has one more group match left, Tuesday against Nigeria. Messi and company must win that match to advance to the knockout round, and probably need a victory by multiple goals and help as well after surrendering three goals. For that to happen, Messi must show up and lead from the front. He hasn’t done that so far.