Captain Lionel Messi failed to inspire his team once again as Argentina were hammered 3-0 by Croatia and now, probably, have an early plane to catch. This loss puts the Abiceleste on the brink of elimination and all of Argentina would be watching Iceland take on Nigeria tomorrow, hoping for a Nigerian win. If the Vikings get three points, however, they could see themselves joining Croatia in the last 16. Things look absolutely bleak for Argentina.
It’s like Messi knew it was coming, though. During the singing of the national anthem, he held is head in his hand, kind of like a psychic envisioning the future. I don’t know if it was because he just wanted the game to start or he wasn’t confident about getting a win from even before the beginning.
He didn’t look sharp on the pitch during the game either, although Argentina did look like a team full of life in their new 3-4-3 formation. Meza created some promising chances for the South Americans but they weren’t clinical enough to convert any. Pressure was mounting and Enzo didn’t make things any easier when he missed an open goal in the 14th minute.
The decision to leave Icardi at home was starting to haunt coach Sampaoli. Or influenced decision, maybe? Rumour has it that Messi was instrumental in the decision to omit Icardi from the squad because he didn’t think that they’d link up well up front. Now, I’m not one to believe in conspiracy theories, but Messi has been in the middle of management decisions before, so I wouldn’t entirely rule that theory out. A, somewhat characteristic, mistake from Willy Cabellero gifted Croatia the opening goal in the 53′ as Rebic capitalized on a timid clearance and volleyed home from 12 yards out. Modric’s (typical) scorcher [80′] and a Rakitic tap-in [90+1′] ensured that the Croatians sealed three points and booked their spot in the Round of 16.
Now, enough about Argentina. Let’s talk about Messi. People may say that he’s the reason Argentina are even in the World Cup, which is fair enough. But a hat-trick in the last qualifying match shouldn’t overshadow a lackluster campaign. He convinced the world that he was finished with the national team after losing the Copa America Centenario final in 2016; running away to hide in retirement. Let’s face it, the only reason he returned was to stay in the international spotlight. I’ll say it again: I’m really not a fan of the Ronaldo-Messi comparison. Never liked it. But I’ll be referring to it for the sake of illustrating leadership. I’m pretty sure Ronaldo winning the 2016 European Championship with (or FOR) Portugal was a key factor in his decision to return to the Argentinean camp. He, too, wanted to win an international trophy, the only thing holding him back from “Greatest of all Time” (GoaT) status.
Photo: Messi crying after losing the Copa America Centenario 2016 final; before he decided to retire.
It’s arguable to many that he is the GoaT, despite not having an international trophy to his name. For me? I’d say that there’s more to football than club performances. Yes, he’s a wonderful player for Barcelona, no doubt. He even (finally) scored against my Chelsea side in the Champions League last season. But we need to see more from him for Argentina on the big stages if he wants to be in the same conversation as Pele and Maradona.
Adding to the GoaT obsession, posing with a goat for a photoshoot before the World Cup, apparently, seemed like a good idea for Messi. Was that even necessary? And people call Ronaldo arrogant. PR and marketing is nice; it’s part of your contract. But some things just makes Messi look like he’s actually trying to keep up with the fictional rivalry between himself and Ronaldo. It’s like he enjoys the off-field attention.
At least Ronaldo’s showing the world that he’s a true captain for his country. He’s won the Euros and now literally carrying Portugal on his back in this year’s World Cup. Daniel Passarella, Diego Maradona, and Daniel Ayala were all fantastic, inspiring captains for Argentina in the past. Passarella and Maradona even went on to win the World Cup (1978 and 1986 respectively). It would be nice to see Messi, a footballing great of this generation and of all time, consistently step up and lead his country. He has much better players around him than Ronaldo does and Ronaldo still gets the job done. Initiating squabbles and lacking sportsmanship against his Croatian opponents when 2-0 down wasn’t very captain-like at all. If the armband is too heavy for Messi, it would be best if he passes it on and play without the weight of Argentina captain. Maybe then, we might see more of the Barcelona superstar we know.
It might be too late for Messi now, though, with Argentina’s fate no longer in their hands. But he could, at least, show us some a glimpse of leadership in their (possible) final game against Nigeria, who Argentina has a good World Cup record against. They could, very well, end up slaughtering the young Nigerian team, based on the African side’s form pre-World Cup and so far in the tournament. On the other hand, we never know if Iceland may slip up. Football is an extremely unpredictable game, after all. There may still be hope for Messi, hope for Sampaoli, and hope for Argentina, but the sun is quickly setting on their Russian adventure.
Image Credit: FIFA™