Lionel Messi and Argentina crashed out of the 2018 World Cup after barely making it to the knockout rounds.
This defeat hurts much less than the loss to Germany four years ago. Back then, Messi was in his prime and Argentina had looked acceptable for most of the tournament. There was a decent probability of the Albiceleste winning and Mario Gotze’s winning goal broke about a million hearts in extra-time.
This time around, Argentina has overachieved despite their elimination in the last 16. They did not deserve to qualify for the World Cup and if it wasn’t for Messi, the Argentina squad would be vacationing right now. They did not deserve to get out of the group stage but by some miracle, they did. After pulling off two absolute miracles, while some might have gotten their hopes up (after all, luck plays a huge part in such competitions), the truth is that winning against France would have been asking for one miracle too many.
Messi doesn’t deserve to go out of the competition prematurely and he didn’t. This team pushed itself to the limit and whether we accept the result or not, the reality is that this is as far as Argentina deserved to go in the World Cup.
Messi’s career reminds me of the cricketing legend, Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar was arguably the greatest player of his generation and for years, he was denied a World Cup. He kept returning to the team in the hopes of laying his hands on that elusive trophy and when he did lift it, I’m sure all that emotional struggle was worth it.
The parallels are remarkable. Both were young prodigies discovered in their teens before becoming the focal point of their teams. They both wore the number 10 and Sachin was an ambassador for Adidas too. Tendulkar was just as cherished and adored as Messi is. If it helps the comparison, they’re both short too.
Greatness has a price and sometimes, it comes when we are no longer leading the charge.
Messi is still capable of returning for the next World Cup and if his physiology permits it, he should play in 2022.
If there’s anyone in this generation of footballers who deserves the World Cup, it is Leo and he has to keep trying for his own sake if not ours.