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A look back at Lionel Messi’s international career ahead of the 2022 World Cup final

Can Argentina’s legend win his last World Cup match?

Argentina v Croatia: Semi Final - FIFA World Cup 2022
Lionel Messi of Argentina is seen during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Semi-Final match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium on December 13, 2022, in Lusail City, Qatar.
Photo by Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Eleven years ago, Sachin Tendulkar walked into a cricket World Cup final at his home ground in Mumbai hoping to capture the only trophy which had eluded him in an otherwise legendary career. Tendulkar was the leading run-scorer in the sport across all formats and the only men’s cricketer at the time to score a double century in a one-day match. He was playing in his final World Cup match and was India’s leading run-scorer in the tournament. Tendulkar only managed to get 18 runs in that final but India won the contest and gave their icon the ultimate prize.

On Sunday, December 18, Argentina legend Lionel Messi will walk into his last World Cup match. It’ll be a final, against defending World Cup champions France. Messi is Argentina’s leading scorer in this tournament with five goals, and he’s assisted on three more. He’s accomplished everything else in the sport except for winning a World Cup.

The parallels between Tendulkar and Messi don’t end there. Both were near the end of their careers entering their last World Cup (Tendulkar was 37, Messi is 35). Both were long-time fixtures in their respective national teams (Tendulkar was in his 22nd year, Messi is in his 17th). And both had a long list of international failures.

Tendulkar played in five World Cups prior to 2011, losing the 2003 final to Australia and a 1996 semifinal to Sri Lanka. The 1996 match actually had to suspended after the home Indian crowd started rioting in the stands. Messi seemingly couldn’t win with Argentina. He had failed to break through in four World Cups prior to the 2022 edition, including a 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 final. He had succumbed in numerous Copa America matches, highlighted by a missed penalty in 2015 final against Chile.

It’s important to note both players did also win some international competitions ahead of their final World Cup games. Tendulkar won an Asia Cup and Champions Trophy with India, although both pale in comparison to the 2011 World Cup win. Messi captured a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics with the under-23 side, but bagged a much bigger international prize in 2021 when Argentina beat Brazil in the Copa America final. Here’s what it meant to the team to give Messi his first international trophy with the senior team.

With the international monkey off his back, Messi is having his best year with the national team to date. He’s scored 16 international goals this year in 13 total matches, which is the most ever in a calendar year for the star.

Tendulkar beat Australia in the 2011 quarterfinal and Sri Lanka in the final at his last World Cup. Messi won’t have quite as clean a story here, as the Germany team that had long been a thorn in his side failed to get out of the group stage. Argentina did lose to France in the knockout round at the 2018 World Cup, so there’s still some revenge potential.

Messi won’t be bothered about that. He and his teammates will only want the focus to be on this match. It’ll be the last World Cup match of Messi’s storied career and it’ll be his last shot at the only trophy he hasn’t won yet. Will this be the ultimate storybook ending for arguably the greatest player of his generation?