The argument for Lionel Messi’s fairy tale farewell: Why Argentina could win World Cup 2022

Lionel Messi Netherlands
(Image credit: Getty)

None of the remaining four contenders for the World Cup 2022 (opens in new tab) title feel as destined for glory as Argentina.

The Albiceleste might not have won international football’s biggest prize since 1986, but the inspired form of the great Lionel Messi in his final World Cup has many believing that the long wait will soon be over. 

One of the globe’s most passionate football publics is desperate for their idol to clinch the only major honour still missing from his mantelpiece - and take Argentina to the top of the world for the first time since the legendary Diego Maradona-led campaign of 36 years ago. 

From the evidence we’ve seen so far, there’s every chance the South Americans will do it – and give Messi the ultimate send-off. Here’s why…

The Messi factor

Setting aside the context of this being Messi’s final World Cup, the 35-year-old’s game-changing form in Qatar is enough in itself to make them major contenders.

The PSG star doesn’t have the legs he used to, but his brain still spots things far quicker than mere mortals and his feet can still execute that vision to perfection.

Messi has already produced a highlight reel for the ages at this tournament: his stunning strike against Mexico when Argentina needed him most, his eye-of-the-needle finish against Australia and his no-look assist against the Netherlands. (opens in new tab)

Since the shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, Lionel Scaloni has moulded a hard-working side around Messi that gets the best out of their superstar.

Messi leads the World Cup for shots (25), he’s second for goals (4) and chances created (16) and he’s fourth for assists (2) and completed dribbles (11). He is stepping up to the occasion in a major way. 

Destiny is on their side

It's Messi’s last chance to win the World Cup – the only major honour missing from a career in which he’s won seven Ballon d’Ors, four Champions Leagues, 10 la Liga titles and the Copa America among many, many others.

The way he’s guided a solid but unspectacular side through the tournament so far has led to inevitable comparisons with Maradona in ’86.

And the Argentinian great’s death just over two years ago adds another level of emotion as the country bids to win it in his memory.

"Diego is watching us from heaven," Messi said after the win over the Netherlands.

"He is pushing us and I really hope this stays the same until the end.”

There is, of course, a pressure that comes with this sense of fate – something Argentina have so far dealt with admirably.

They are the favourites

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring for Argentina against Australia at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Argentina are the highest-ranked team left at the World Cup, sitting third in the FIFA Rankings, one place ahead of France.

Nielson’s Gracenote has them as the favourites to win it, giving Scaloni’s side a 41% chance compared to 26% for Les Bleus.

It’s easy to see why – Argentina’s shock loss to the Saudis on the opening day is their only defeat in the last 41 games, a run stretching back to July 2019.

Put simply, they should fear no one. 

Their matches are like home games

Argentina are probably the best-supported team left at the tournament (with the possible exception of Morocco) and their fans have created some of the best atmospheres in Qatar.

The invasion of blue-and-white shirted supporters was particularly obvious in the quarter-final against the Netherlands, when they vastly outnumbered the Dutch supporters, with only a few pockets of orange to be seen.

Argentina are sure to be able to rely on a huge support for their remaining games in Doha – and that could make a world of difference.

See more

Tactical flexibility and mental toughness

Scaloni has shown impressive tactical flexibility as the tournament has gone on, making changes both to his personnel and his formation to get the best from his squad.

This refusal to be set in his ways paid dividends, with a bold switch to a back three against the Dutch paying off – at least until the extraordinary impact of late substitute Wout Weghorst.

Scaloni has used a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 already in the space of five games and is able and willing to adapt based on the circumstances – a trait that could serve him well in the big matches to come.

And for all the concerns around their late collapse against the Dutch, where Argentina conceded twice to throw away a comfortable lead and take the game to extra-time, their response can be seen as encouraging.

Heading into extra-time, all the momentum was with the Oranje, who had equalised with the last kick of the game after penning in the Albiceleste in the closing stages.

But Argentina managed to clear their heads and get on a firm footing again and finished the game stronger, hitting the post in extra-time as they pushed for a winner before having the composure to come out on top in the shoot-out.

In a stormy game that saw a record 18 yellow cards flashed, Argentina at least kept their heads enough to see out the result they needed – and that will stand them in good stead if they find themselves in another tricky position. 

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Alasdair Mackenzie is a freelance journalist based in Rome, and a FourFourTwo contributor since 2015. When not pulling on the FFT shirt, he can be found at Reuters, The Times and the i. An Italophile since growing up on a diet of Football Italia on Channel 4, he now counts himself among thousands of fans sharing a passion for Ross County and Lazio.