Can you truly be considered the greatest ever player to grace the planet if you haven’t lifted the World Cup? The long standing debate surrounding Lionel Messi and sport’s ultimate accolade is about to be reignited.
The 30-year-old looks set to miss out on what is likely to be his last chance to win football’s biggest prize. Turning 35 during Qatar 2022, and already pondering calling time on his Argentina career, the reality is that we are are unlikely to see the Barcelona star step out on the biggest stage again.
The south Americans are likely to miss out on their first World Cup since 1970. Abject failure last night it is being called, a goalless draw at home to Peru means a place in Russia is now unlikely.
The two-time world champions’ mega star striker may not be too concerned about rival for greatness Cristiano Ronaldo stealing a march.
Portugal too are about to embark on a make-or-break game week. They must beat Andorra on Saturday before facing Switzerland, a game they must win or it’s the play-off lottery for the Real Madrid man.
It’s much more perilous for Argentina, runners up to Germany in the World Cup three years ago in Brazil. Only the top four in the South American qualifying group are guaranteed a place in the finals. Firing blanks last night, Messi and his team-mates are sixth with just one game left.
“We are in this situation but it is not comfortable,” coach Jorge Sampaoli said as criticism grows. “If we confront it with the conviction that we had against Peru, we will win in Ecuador.
“In the changing room, there was a feeling of enthusiasm when we found out that if we win in Quito, we will qualify. I’m going to take advantage of that chance and so are the players.
“Our group of players competed to the standard required by me and that allows us to be optimistic heading into our next game. But it depends on us.”
They now need to play a get-out-of-jail free card, having to beat Ecuador and hoping for the best elsewhere to try and clinch fifth place in the group and set up a play-off with New Zealand.
To do it, they will have to win at 9,350 feet. The thin air in Quito will suffocate if they can’t.
We’re about to discover if the player with one of the highest standings in the game will ever reach the pinnacle.