The countdown to the 2022 FIFA World Cup has officially begun, with the event just over a month away. But while the World Cup has long stood out as one of the biggest events in the international sporting calendar, this year it has come to be overshadowed by criticism against Qatar and its questionable human rights record. Rather than focusing on the players, team rivalries and the up-and-coming athletes set to make their mark on the football pitch for the first time, attention has instead turned to acts of protest and wider socio-cultural issues at the heart of the host country.
But even despite the controversy surrounding the tournament, teams are still going forward and their players still looking with steely-eyed determination at securing the trophy. For Lionel Messi especially, there’s now the added pressure of the event being his last World Cup of his career.
At 35-years-old, Messi has announced that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be his last. He’s played five World Cups in his lifetime, but still is yet to hoist the prized trophy above his head in an act of celebration. Messi will now be looking to secure his first title at the World Cup and, given his incredible legacy in the sport, it seems only fair that so many will be rooting for him to achieve just that.
Speaking with Star Plus, the famed footballer admitted: “There’s some anxiety and nerves at the same time…it is the last one.” The comments mark the first time Messi has spoken openly about his future after the tournament, which commences on November 20. But while he didn’t elaborate further to explain whether the World Cup would see him retire fully from the national team, fans of the star have already seen the announcement as a great loss for the sport at large.
The last time Argentina won the World Cup was in 1986, having previously won the trophy in 1978. The team are set to open their World Cup campaign on November 22 with a match against Saudi Arabia in Group C, before later facing off against Mexico and Poland.
“I don’t know whether we are big favourites, but I believe Argentina is a candidate because of its history, which means even more now because of the way we got here,” said Messi. “But in a World Cup anything can happen, all the matches are very difficult. It isn’t always the favourites who win.”
For the uninitiated, Messi is widely regarded as the best football player in the world today, with the kind of skill that leaves audiences feeling lucky to be alive and witnessing such a talent in real-time. Though the Argentinian has long been the subject of comparison to Cristiano Ronaldo, his outstanding ball control and pace continues to go unmatched.
The rapid star ascension of Messi in football is the kind of story that could be penned as a Disney film, with the star being born in Rosario, Argentina. Despite showing promising signs with a football from a young age, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at age 11 that required expensive treatment. His parents, struggling with finances, could hardly afford the move, but sensing their child was destined for greatness, they moved to Spain where Messi tried out for Barcelona, with the club being so impressed they paid for his medical treatment.
Messi quickly rose through the ranks and was in the first team at the age of just 17, becoming a full international player the next year. In the second half of the 2006-7 campaign, he became the youngest Barca player to ever score a hat trick against rival Real Madrid in ‘El Classico’ and netted 11 goals in the lsat 13 games of the season. Since then, Messi has only continued to cement his place as one of the greatest to have ever played the game, amassing a legion of adoring fans and commanding respect from teammates and rivals alike.