Lionel Messi dream of matching late great Diego Maradona’s Argentina legacy lives on. The seven-time Ballon d’Or-winning forward pulled level with Maradona on eight World Cup goals and a record 21 appearances at the tournament for his country on Saturday.
Messi’s brilliant low strike from outside the box sparked a 2-0 win over Mexico to take them second in Group C, just as their hopes of victory were starting to fade and fear was setting in. Argentina’s talisman is two goals short of their World Cup top-scorer Gabriel Batistuta’s tally of 10 goals, but his winner should bring more opportunities to overtake “Batigol” in Qatar.
The real dream is emulating Maradona’s 1986 World Cup win, but Messi can content himself for now by levelling Maradona’s World Cup appearance record and goal haul, two years and a day after ‘El Pelusa’ passed away.
The curly-haired playmaker inspired Argentina to victory in Mexico in 1986, as well as playing in the 1982, 1990 and 1994 editions.
Some insist Messi cannot be considered the greatest of all time unless he lifts the trophy, and in Argentina, Maradona’s gleaming World Cup legacy often aids him in comparisons, his flawed genius winning out against Messi’s near-perfection.
Maradona scored five and set up another five as Argentina waltzed to their second World Cup trophy 36 years ago in Mexico.
Almost a year later Messi was born, but Argentina have not managed to lift the trophy in his lifetime.
The Albiceleste captain managed to inspire the team to second place in 2014, with Argentina losing 1-0 in extra-time against Germany in the Rio de Janeiro final.
The Paris Saint-Germain No 10, playing in his fifth World Cup, converted a penalty in Argentina’s opener but they crashed to a shock defeat by Saudi Arabia.
Against Mexico he sporadically burst into life but his team were largely suffocated by their energetic opponents.
Early in the second half Messi sent a free-kick over the crossbar from a dangerous position, as Argentina’s desperation grew.
Eventually he broke the deadlock in the 64th minute, finishing exquisitely beyond the reach of Mexican cult hero Guillermo Ochoa, with Enzo Fernandez adding a brilliant second late on.
Maradona scored only 15 goals for Argentina in 41 competitive appearances, compared to Messi’s 49 in 115, but some led him to World Cup glory.
– Competing histories –
After elimination in the second group stage in Spain 1982, Maradona returned with a vengeance four years later.
He conjured the most talked-about display in football history against England in the quarter-finals.
The stocky attacker scored one of the great all-time goals with a magnificent solo dribble, after opening the scoring with the infamous “hand of god” punch over England goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
Another brace followed against Belgium in the semis and Maradona provided an assist in the 3-2 final win over West Germany, perhaps the country’s finest sporting moment.
In 1990 Maradona guided Argentina to the final but they fell 1-0 against West Germany.
A wild eye-bulging celebration after scoring in 1994 World Cup became an enduring image — Maradona failed a drugs test and was sent home after two games.
Messi, who became the first Argentinian to score at four World Cups this week, struck on his debut at the 2006 tournament against Serbia and Montenegro as a teenager.
He was an unused substitute as Germany eliminated Argentina in the quarter-finals, then suffered another 4-0 thrashing by the same opponents at the same stage in 2010.
Germany foiled Messi again at the final hurdle in 2014 and France beat them in the last 16 in 2018, the playmaker creating two goals in a 4-3 defeat.
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Messi has never scored in a World Cup knock-out tie and with two goals in two games this year, and strikes in each of Argentina’s last six matches, this could be his time.
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