Fourth time unlucky: Messi's World Cup dreams left in tatters
Lionel Messi bowed out of the World Cup with his head hung low after Argentina were beaten 4-3 by France, denying the five-time Ballon d'Or winner what may have been his last chance of lifting football's most famous trophy.
The 31-year-old provided two assists as Argentina went down fighting but he was outshone by France's Kylian Mbappe, the young winger who might just dethrone Messi at the pinnacle of world football if his rise to stardom continues.
It was the fourth and final game of Messi's fourth – and possibly final – World Cup, and at full-time he stood forlorn on the field, his dream of captaining Argentina to glory in tatters after a thoroughly disappointing tournament.
Germany 2006 - Quarter-finals
Messi's misery in Russia came 12 years after he became the youngest player to represent Argentina at a World Cup when he came on a substitute and scored in a 6-0 victory over Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, before helping the Albiceleste reach the quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to hosts Germany.
2 - Lionel Messi is the first Argentinian player with two assists in a World Cup game since Diego Maradona in 1986 (v Korea Republic). Landmark. pic.twitter.com/c1KrqvagAY
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 30, 2018
South Africa 2010 - Quarter-finals
He was a Ballon d'Or winner by the time Argentina arrived at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but the team flattered to deceive under head coach Diego Maradona and Messi's talismanic performances in the group stage were overshadowed by a 4-0 quarter-final defeat – again to Germany.
Brazil 2014 - Final
The closest Messi has come to World Cup glory was at Brazil 2014, where he scored in all Argentina's group games yet once again had his hopes undone by Germany, this time in a final that was settled by a single Mario Gotze goal.
Russia 2018 - Last 16
In Russia, Messi cut a frustrated figure as Jorge Sampaoli's misfiring side were held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland and beaten 3-0 by Croatia, but he scored one of the goals of the tournament against Nigeria to help Argentina clinch a victory that took them into the knockout stage.
All eyes were on Messi as a nation hoped their greatest player of the last 30 years could revive their World Cup dreams in Kazan, but France got the better of a leaky Argentina defence as one of the game's finest talents watched another chance for glory slip away.