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Argentina icon Lionel Messi has announced that Qatar 2022 will be his last World Cup. So, HITC Football has looked at an all-time XI of his best teammates over his past tournaments.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will feature at his fifth tournament this November and December. Messi made his debut at the finals during the 2006 edition in Germany, before captaining La Albiceleste during the 2010 South Africa edition and through 2014 and 2018.
Messi enjoyed his and Argentina’s best World Cup of his career so far in 2014 when Brazil hosted the 20th edition. The South American nation reached the final in Rio de Janeiro but could not beat Germany. Die Mannschaft edged the Maracana match 1-0 after extra time.
Messi dragged Argentina out of Group F at Brazil 2014 with four goals through his opening three World Cup games. La Albiceleste struggled against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. Yet the diminutive 5 ft 6 Rosario native came up clutch for boss Alejandro Sabella.
Angel Di Maria settled Argentina’s Round of 16 affair with Switzerland in 2014 by turning home Messi’s pass, as well. While two assists in the last 16 in 2018 would not stop France beating Argentina 4-3 as Les Bleus went on to clinch their second World Cup title in Russia.
Argentina will now hope to send Messi off in style at Qatar 2022 after the 35-year-old told Star+ he will not make another World Cup. The Paris Saint-Germain forward will turn 39 by the time the 2026 tournament held in Canada, the United States and Mexico rolls around.
“If it is my last World Cup? Yes, surely yes, surely yes,” Messi confirmed, via quotes by TN. “I feel good physically, I can have a very good pre-season this year that I hadn’t done the year before because of how everything went.
“I started training late, playing without rhythm with the tournament already started. Then I went to the national team, when I came back I had an injury and I never finished starting.”
Messi endured a difficult 2021/22 campaign at the domestic level after joining Paris Saint-Germain following his emotional exit from Barcelona. The Blaugrana legend left the Camp Nou after 672 goals in 778 games but only managed six in his first 26 Ligue 1 appearances.
He still laid on 15 assists last term, though, and already has five goals plus a further seven assists this season in nine top-flight games. Yet Argentina’s opening World Cup tie for the Qatar 2022 edition with Saudi Arabia on November 22 is already playing on Messi’s mind.
“I am counting the days for the World Cup,” he added. “The truth is, there is a little anxiety of wanting it to be now and the nerves of saying ‘well, we’re here, what’s going to happen, it’s the last one, how is it going to go?’”
So, with Messi confirming Qatar 2022 will be his last World Cup, HITC Football has taken a look at his past tournaments and compiled an All-Star XI of his best Argentina teammates…
Sergio Romero helped Messi to the World Cup final at Brazil 2014. The 96-cap goalkeeper made seven of his career Argentina outings at the tournament as Sabella’s first choice. He also shut out Iran, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands to register four clean sheets.
Messi and Romero also featured on the pitch together five times through the 2010 edition in South Africa. But after denying Nigeria and Greece in the group stage, the current Boca Juniors and former Manchester United ace conceded four to Germany in the quarter-final.
Manchester City hero Pablo Zabaleta was a key part of Argentina’s side at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The right-back had failed to make any of La Albiceleste’s squads through the 2006 and 2010 editions. Yet Zabaleta was Argentina’s first-choice in 2014 for seven games.
Zabaleta played every minute of his appearances in Brazil, including extra time during their Round of 16, semi-final and final ties. The 37-year-old would later retire from international duty in 2016. He also won gold against Nigeria at the 2008 Beijing Olympics beside Messi.
Gabriel Heinze featured at two World Cups with Messi after making the Argentina squad in 2006 and 2010. The defender shared a pitch with the four-time Champions League winner twice in Germany and four times in South Africa. He is now the coach of MLS team Atlanta.
Messi did not feature with an outfield Argentina player more often than Martin Demichelis at the 2010 World Cup. Alongside goalkeeper Romero, the centre-back and Messi shared a pitch for 450 minutes. Demichelis also enjoyed 330 minutes with Messi during Brazil 2014.
Nicolas Tagliafico will hope to help Messi finally win a World Cup at the Argentina legend’s last attempt. The left-back could not help the Rosario-born wizard finally top the world at Russia 2018. He featured in all four of La Albiceleste’s matches at the last Fifa tournament.
Messi is Argentina’s most-capped player of all time with 164 appearances since his debut in 2005. A near second to the iconic forward is Javier Mascherano, who amassed 147 caps from 2003 to 2018. Messi also made more beside Mascherano (111) than any other player.
Of their 8,955 minutes on the pitch together, Messi played 122 beside Mascherano at the 2006 World Cup plus 360 in 2010, 693 in 2014 and 360 in 2018. As well as the midfielder’s integral presence in Brazil, Mascherano was pivotal for Argentina as the rock of their spine.
Messi has recorded 97 of his Argentina appearances beside Di Maria, more than any other player bar Mascherano. The pair have also participated in nine goals together to date, yet only one has come at a World Cup. Messi assisted the Juventus forward during Brazil 2014.
Ezequiel Lavezzi enjoyed 51 caps for Argentina during his international career from 2007 to 2017. He also won a gold medal at Beijing 2008 with Messi, whom he featured beside over Brazil 2014 on six occasions. The pair also combined for a World Cup goal to beat Iran 1-0.
Messi will arrive in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup as Argentina’s all-time top-scorer with 90 goals, plus 51 assists, from his record 164 caps. The 35-year-old also struck six of his goals and five assists from 19 games at World Cups. He only failed to score at South Africa 2010.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be the first Fifa tournament Messi plays without Gonzalo Higuain leading the Argentina attack since 2006. The 34-year-old led his nation’s efforts at the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions for five goals and an assist. He did not score during 2018.
Higuain called time on his Argentina career after he did not play in La Albiceleste’s last 16 defeat to France in Russia. The 75-cap forward will now call time on his domestic career at the end of the 2022 Major League Soccer term after announcing his retirement this week.
Sergio Aguero also won gold at the 2008 Olympics with Messi and featured at three World Cups together. The pair played beside one another three times at the 2010 edition, in five games at Brazil 2014 and four times in Russia 2018. Messi also assisted him once in 2018.
The pair formed a close friendship after they first met through football for the U20 World Cup in 2005. So strong is their connection that Aguero named Messi as the godfather of his son, Benjamin, in 2009. While on the pitch, they played in a total of 90 matches together.
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