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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

King Leo's Best Chance

Christopher Coppock |
June 9, 2014 | 3:28 p.m. PDT

Supervising Executive Producer

There were high expectations for Lionel Messi long before he joined Barcelona’s first team. Many believed that by pairing him with Ronaldhino, Barca would become the team to beat in Europe, and in many respects they were right. Messi, however, soon outgrew even the shadow of the Brazilian legend, and by the time he scored a near carbon copy of Diego Maradona’s goal of the century versus Getafe in 2007, a number of observers were already calling him one of the greatest men ever to grace a soccer pitch. 

As the years have advanced, the clamoring for him to be considered along with the pair of Pelé and Maradona as one of the three best players in history has increased at pace. Undoubtedly, Messi has provided us with enough evidence of his genius over the years that the statement is far from a ludicrous one. 

Can Messi be one of history's best without a World Cup trophy? (2 Top/Flickr)
Can Messi be one of history's best without a World Cup trophy? (2 Top/Flickr)

From his hat trick against Real Madrid at the age of only 19 to his epic four goal performance against Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League, just to name two of a host of impressive moments, the 4-time ballon d’or winner has dominated soccer for the past half decade. 

Despite this level of excellence, Messi appears to be extremely humble and private, only granting interviews under duress and doing his level best to stay out of the spotlight. The knowledge vacuum created by his unwillingness to share his life with the public only adds to his mystique.

The world seems split. There are those who already consider him the greatest in history, and there are those who say he cannot even be considered among the best until he wins the grandest trophy in sports: the FIFA World Cup. They say that until Messi can guide Argentina to glory, he can never be as good as Pelé or Maradona. 

Luckily for soccer fans around the world, the World Cup is upon us. Once more, and perhaps for the 2nd to last time, Messi will try to take his country all the way to the top of the beautiful game. The pressure for him to do so this year is immense; after all, it is likely that this World Cup gives the Argentine the best chance he has left to silence his doubters. 

Surrounded by a selection of some of the best attacking players in the world, supported by perhaps the most underrated defense at this World Cup, and led by a coach who made it clear his intention was and is to build the side around Messi himself, the opportunity is his for the taking.

Having been drawn in a relatively easy group, Argentina should have little trouble winning all three matches, thereby advancing to the round of 16 as the Group F winner. Assuming Switzerland comes 2nd to France in Group E, Argentina will face the banking nation in the first knockout round. 

There's still one trophy missing from Messi's mantle. (Lluis Gene/Getty Images)
There's still one trophy missing from Messi's mantle. (Lluis Gene/Getty Images)
If they beat the Swiss, a likely outcome, they will then advance to the quarterfinals. There, Argentina will likely play Germany, their nemesis from the past two World Cups. Once past the Germans, an event that is anything but certain, Argentina would have to defeat the likes of Spain, Netherlands and Brazil if they hope to hoist the trophy in the Maracana on July 13. 

Once past the round of 16, Argentina will have to rely more and more on Messi. The 26-year-old will have to produce more than a few moments of magic as the tournament progresses in order to see the South American nation all the way through to the final. 

Those moments of magic, however, should not be unexpected. The name Messi is, of course, known so well in countries around the world precisely because of his ability to find a pass that doesn’t exist, control the ball in ways the rest of us can only dream about, and leave an entire defense grasping at thin air. 

No matter what happens in Brazil, Messi has already crafted for himself a legacy that will last for decades. If, however, the little Argentine can captain his country to glory, he will then take his rightful place among the greatest sporting figures the world has ever seen. After all, heroes get remembered but legends never die; Messi is on the brink of becoming a legend in his own right.

Reach Supervising Executive Producer Christopher Coppock by email.



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