Leo Messi is the best soccer player in the world. But he has a kind of a debt with soccer fans: He still has to guide his national team to a World Cup title.
Everybody is expecting a great tournament from Argentina’s superstar Lionel Messi. However, with Argentina, he still has to deliver the kind of performances that have set him apart as the World Best Player. Will Brazil 2014 be the tournament where Messi finally reach soccer’s highest trophy? Of course, nobody knows, but we can compare his World Cup path with the ones of other great players.
Manager César Menotti considered Maradona too young to be part of the national team for 1978 FIFA World Cup. He was not totally wrong, after all Argentina won the title as a host country in that Cup. But he deprived Maradona from being the youngest player to ever wear the “albiceleste”, the common name of Argentina national team’s shirt. Maradona was 17 years old.
A Championship also helped Luis Alberto Parreira avoid critics when he brought the young Brazilian phenomenon Ronaldo to USA ’94 FIFA World Cup but did not use him at all. Like Maradona, Ronaldo was 17 years old.
Pelé also was 17 years old when he played his first FIFA World Cup, Sweden 1958. He could miss the tournament, but he recovered with enough time to make the team and was a key element of Brazil’s first ever World Championship. Pelé scored six goals at the tournament.
Messi was part of the Argentinean team in Germany 2006, and when he went to the field against Serbia and Montenegro, he became the youngest Argentinean player to ever play at a World Cup. The role of Messi in that selection was minor. He played 3 of the 5 games of his team, just one as a starter, and scored one goal. But that goal also stands as the one scored by the youngest member of the Argentinean National Team in a World Cup.
Messi was 18 and turned 19 the same day Argentina played against Mexico for the round of 16 at Germany 2006.
A step back
Expectations were very high for Maradona and Argentina in Spain 1982 FiFA World Cup. But Maradona did not deliver what everybody was waiting of him. Argentina lost 3 of 5 games, and Maradona score just twice, both goals in the same game. He left the tournament in shame, when was sent off with a red card for a hard foul on a Brazilian player in Argentina’s last game of the cup.
Ronaldo also arrived in France 1998 FIFA World Cup with the highest expectations. He was labeled as the World Best Player and Brazil was the favorite to repeat its World title obtained in 1994. Brazil went through the final, losing in a low note against France. Ronaldo had a so-so tournament. He scored 4 goals but was a non factor in the final, after suffering a fit hours before the game. A lot of conspiracy theories followed Brazil’s lost and Ronaldo’s seizure.
Pelé was already considered the best player in the world when Chile 1962 FIFA World Cup started. But he hurt himself and just played two games, while Brazil went the whole route to win its second World Cup. At least, Pelé scored one goal.
Messi and Argentina arrived in South Africa 2010 World Cup with the label of favorites. But Argentinean’s coach, no other than Maradona, used Messi more as an organizer than as a striker. Messi could not score in any of the five games Argentina played. In quarter finals, Argentina lost 4-0 against Germany, and the tournament was considered a failure for the team. Messi did not receive hard critics for his performance, but neither he delivered as everybody expected.
Third time is the charm
Mexico 1986 FIFA World Cup was Maradona’s tournament. He was the best player by far, leading Argentina to its second World Championship. He scored five goals, two of them considered part of the most beautiful goals ever scored in a World Cup. Also, he scored one of the most controversial, when he used his hand to score against England, in a play universally known as “The hand of God”. Four years later, at Italy’90, even though he was suffering for a lot of injuries, he led Argentina again to the final, but they lost against West Germany.
Ronaldo was the top scorer of Korea-Japan 2002 FIFA World Cup. He scored 8 goals, two of them in the final against Germany, leading Brazil to its fifth world title. With 12 goals in two World Cups he tied Pelé’s record. Four years later, at Germany 2006, Ronaldo became the player with more goals scored in World Cups.
Pelé did not follow this path. England 1966 FIFA World Cup was again a shortened by injuries tournament for him. Also, it was a huge failure for Brazil, eliminated in the first round. At England, Pelé was the victim of the violent game of his opponents. He managed to score a goal, but he was kicked so hard that he promised to not play again in a World Cup. He did not keep his promise, and four years later, at Mexico 1970 FIFA World Cup he was part of maybe the best National Team of all times, and Brazil won its third World Cup.
At Brazil 2014, Messi will go for his charm. He will arrive at the Cup as the world best player. He will turn 27 years old in the middle of the tournament, an age when soccer players usually are at their peaks. Brazil 2014 timing is perfect to be Messi’s tournament.