Lionel Messi begins his road to World Cup redemption on Friday as Argentina take on Italy in a glamour friendly, desperate to win a major international prize to crown his glorious career.
In Barcelona’s colours, Messi has experienced nothing but success, winning eight La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns, while earning FIFA’s Ballon d’Or award five times.
But pulling on Argentina’s blue-and-white striped shirt has brought the forward some of the most painful moments of his career.
Rarely able to hit the same heights with Argentina that he routinely scales with Barcelona, Messi has endured stinging criticism from albiceleste fans at times.
Nobody would dispute Messi’s status as one of the all-time greats, but many in Argentina believe he cannot be considered on the same level as Diego Maradona until he wins a major honour with his country, as his compatriot did at the 1986 World Cup.
Rubbing salt into those wounds, Messi has lost in three successive major finals with Argentina as the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America titles slipped from his grasp. “I cried many times because of games like these, for lost finals, for what they mean and for not being able to achieve the dream of a country. It was a hard blow to take,” Messi recently told Argentine television programme La Cornisa.
The last World Cup was devastating to Messi as he missed a golden opportunity to put Argentina ahead in the final against Germany, who went on to win 1-0 in extra-time.
As if that was not bad enough, for the first time in his career, he missed in a penalty shootout when Argentina were beaten by Chile in the Copa America final two years ago.