By 90Min
April 28, 2018

13th July 2014 proved to be a chastening day for Lionel Messi, as Mario Gotze's goal seven minutes from the end of extra time prolonged his wait for a World Cup that has alluded him throughout his career.

For all of his accomplishments, for which there have been many, critics of Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer point to not only the absence of a World Cup winners medal, but a performance at football's biggest tournament befitting of the tag 'World's Greatest Player', something his predecessor managed during 1986 in Mexico.

Diego Maradona has become synonymous with the World Cup after he guided Argentina to glory in 1986, leading by example with a number of stunning displays that have now become engraved into the history of the competition.

The question is, can Messi follow in Maradona's footsteps in Russia this summer?

Bongarts/GettyImages

Prior to the second World Cup to be held in Mexico, qualifying for the competition had been less-than convincing for La Albiceleste, with Jorge Valdano summing up the state of the team upon arrival in Mexico, stating: 

"The team arrived in Mexico low on confidence and nobody gave us much of a chance. On top of which there was a great deal of tension within the camp."

It was to be El Pibe de Oro's second taste of a World Cup for his country, having scored twice in 1982 as Argentina could only reach the second group stage. With expectations low this time around, this perhaps gave Carlos Bilardo's players the freedom to express themselves in Mexico, with no one accepting the invitation more so than Maradona. 

Despite only scoring once in the group stage against Italy during their 1-1 draw, Maradona provided four assists against South Korea and Bulgaria in the other two group games respectively, as Argentina qualified from Group A as winners, giving an early indication as to the form that he had brought heading into the knockout stages of the competition. 

In comparison with Messi (a seemingly inevitable prospect when discussing the pair),

Barcelona's current number ten has amassed five goals at all three World Cups he has appeared in. Staggeringly however, all his goals have come in the group stages, leaving Messi open to criticism regarding his performances in the crux of the competition, a critique that could not be labelled at Maradona in '86. 

Following a narrow 1-0 win against Uruguay in the last 16, Maradona's Argentina were tasked with facing England in the quarter finals. In what turned out to be one of the most famous games in World Cup history, the then number 10 would leave his indelible mark on an occasion befitting of his genius, craft and talent.

Fans in attendance at the Aztec Arena were treated to the beauty and the beast of Maradona all in the space of four minutes. The latter coming in the 51st minute, as the 'Hand of God' contentiously handed Argentina the lead in the blazing heat of Mexico City, although it's not a moment you would endorsing Messi replicating this summer.

For how controversial his first goal was, the second scored by Maradona in the 54th minute was equally as memorable, but for all the right reasons. Voted for by FIFA as 'Goal of the Century', the diminutive forward glided past the likes of Peter Beardsley and Reid, Terry Butcher and Fenwick, before rounding Peter Shilton and doubling Argentina's lead with arguably the greatest goal in the history of the competition, with Gary Lineker's late goal acting as a mere consolation. 

Two more goals would follow for Maradona in their 2-0 win against Belgium in the semi final win, which set up the showpiece final against West Germany. In what was a pulsating final at the Aztec Arena (a stadium that Maradona seemed at home in), Argentina's initial two goal lead had been clawed back by their European counterparts. Seven minutes before the end however, Maradona would have his say on the game and in a big way.

Argentina's captain provided the vital assist for their third and decisive goal. Playing an exquisite pass through to Jorge Burrechanga, he duly raced away from a German defence, before slotting past the imposing figure of Harald Schumacher and seal the country's second World Cup, with the award of the Golden Ball and Silver Shoe the perfect additions to the immortalisation of Maradona's legacy in the competition. 

(You may also be interested in World Cup Countdown: 8 Weeks to Go - How Colombia Withdrew From Hosting the 1986 World Cup)

Quite the act for Messi to follow, yet for a player so talent and distinguished in the modern era, the World Cup has represented an insurmountable hurdle he is yet to conquer. Consecutive World Cup quarter final exits at the hands of Germany in 2006 and 2010, where even the pairing of Messi with Maradona at the helm couldn't guide the South American's to glory. 


The most recent tournament in Brazil is the closest Messi has to winning the trophy that many believe he is deserving of. In what was his best return at the competition with four goals, while he, like Maradona, led Argentina to the final against the same opponents as in 1986. Gotze's goal proved enough on the day, with the award of the Golden Ball to Messi nothing more than scant consolation.


In what will be his fourth World Cup, time is beginning to run out for Messi if he is to realise his dream. Entering the tournament aged 30, Messi has hinted this could be his final chance in Russia, stating it's "now or never" to realise his own personal dream, insisting he wants to "get rid of the bad taste and win the World Cup."


Should Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer fail to capture the World Cup this summer, he certainly isn't the first and will not be the last great in which a World Cup winners medal alludes them. The likes of Johan Cruyff and Eusabio are two greats of the game who never won a World Cup they probably deserved, while Messi's contemporary Cristiano Ronaldo is another who's career could end without him lifting the famous trophy.

Expected to captain Jorge Sampaoli's side this summer, Messi will lead Argentina into Russia this summer with an air of '86 still lingering. Struggling to qualify for this World Cup as they did 32 years ago, Argentina aren't perhaps a team many expect to even reach the final, never mind win it, although it would be foolish to write off a team with a five time Ballon d'Or winner. 


Argentina's talisman and leader to the World Cup in 1986 came in the shape of a left footed number ten, who's to say history won't repeat itself this time around.

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