Lionel Messi is about to play in his fifth and last World Cup. The Argentine has won nearly everything, both with professional clubs and with his national team. There’s only one trophy missing in his cabinet, perhaps the hardest one to conquer: an 18-carat gold cup. He came very close eight years ago, but, at the crucial moment, neither he nor his teammates managed to score and get past Germany in the 2014 final in Brazil. Now, the captain of the albiceleste, at 35, faces the enormous challenge of helping his country add the elusive third star to their badge. Will he do it? Probably not, although he is bound to break several world records.


Messi’s debut in the World Cup came in the 2006 tournament in Germany. He was only 19 and was yet to become the great star of Barcelona. The manager, José Néstor Pékerman only handed him one start and brought him on as a substitute in two matches. On June 16, in the match against Serbia and Montenegro, Messi came on for Maxi Rodríguez at minute 75. Thirteen minutes later, “The Flea” scored his first goal and rounded up Argentina’s 6-0 thrashing of the Serbs.

He was then a starter against the Netherlands and a substitute in Argentina’s 2-1 defeat of Mexico in the round of 16. Pékerman evidently lacked trust in the youngster, for he didn’t even bring him on in the quarterfinal, which ended in shootout defeat against the Germans.

Four years later, in South Africa 2010, Messi was already the big star of the squad led by Diego Armando Maradona. “The Flea” started in all five matches played by the albiceleste and wore the captain’s armband in one of them. It was Messi’s worst World Cup to date. The team scored ten goals, but none came from its star player. In the quarterfinal, against Germany, there was little Messi could do to avoid a 0-4 rout.

Messi’s great chance came in Brazil. Under boss Alejandro Sabella, the Argentines won all three matches in the group stage, with Messi in a leading role. In the first match, against Bosnia and Herzegovina, “The Flea” scored the winning goal at minute 65. Against Iran, in injury time, Messi let out a spectacular shot from outside the 18-yard box that went in and won the match. Finally, in the closing game of the group stage, against Nigeria, the Argentine added two more goals to his tally.

In the four matches that followed, Messi was unable to score again. In the semifinal against the Netherlands, he stepped up first for the penalty shootout and scored. La albiceleste got through to the most highly anticipated match, a third World Cup final duel against Germany, but, as in 1990, the Germans prevailed thanks to a solitary goal. Messi was handed the Golden Ball as the best player at the Brazilian World Cup, an award he certainly didn’t want or deserve.

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At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Messi had the worst possible opener, missing the penalty kick that would have meant victory over Iceland, in a match that ended 1-1. Days later, Argentina’s crisis worsened, after a comprehensive 0-3 defeat to Croatia. In the last match of the group stage, la albiceleste had no choice but to beat Nigeria. Messi had a good match, scoring the opening goal and helping the team through to the round of 16. The joy was short-lived, since France knocked out Argentina with a 3-4 scoreline.

These are Messi’s stats in the FIFA World Cup so far: 19 matches played, 17 of them as a starter, with 12 wins, 3 draws and 4 defeats. “The Flea” has scored six goals (none from the penalty spot) and has been shown only one yellow card.


Messi announced that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be his swan song in this tournament. Therefore, the Argentine will be able to equal, but not break, the record of five World Cup participations held by Antonio Carbajal and Rafa Márquez of Mexico and Lothar Matthäus of Germany. The first record set to be broken is that of the Argentine with more World Cup matches played. Messi has amassed 19 appearances so far, two less than Diego Armando Maradona (21) and one less than Javier Mascherano (20). This means that, by playing in the three group stage matches in pool C, against Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland, “The Flea” would reach 22.

Should Argentina progress to the final of Qatar 2022, Messi would break the record for more World Cup matches played, held by Matthäus with 25. Additionally, Messi could become the Argentine to wear the captain’s armband on more occasions. Maradona wore it for 16 matches; Messi has done it for 12. Therefore, “The Flea” would need his team to advance to at least the quarterfinals to overtake Diego.

Another record Messi could break in Qatar is that of more matches won in World Cup history. In his four previous tournaments, Messi has racked up 12 wins as part of the albiceleste. The current record belongs to another German, Miroslav Klose, who reached 17 victories. The Argentine would then need to add six wins—every match until the final—to break Klose’s record.

In case Argentina reached the showpiece, Messi would break the record for more minutes played at the World Cup. So far, “The Flea” has accumulated 1625. The record is held by Paolo Maldini of Italy, who was out on the pitch for 2217 minutes across four World Cup editions. To surpass Maldini, Messi would have to play seven full matches.

Will Messi be able to break all these records at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar? La albiceleste are one of the main favorites to fight for the crown, a forecast many times made and often proven wrong. Perhaps it’s time for the prediction finally to materialize.