Things could get Messi in South Africa for Argentina

Despite still being just 22 years of age, Barcelona and Argentina forward, Lionel Messi, has been sending out the warning signals for some time that he is possibly the best player in World football right now.

If you were in need of evidence then one only needed to see his performance in Barcelona’s 4-1 victory over Arsenal in the second leg of the Champions League Quarter Final, where Messi scored all four goals for the Catalan club. His opening goal in ‘El Clasico’ on Saturday night took his tally to 18 goals in his last 13 games, together with his performance helping Barca to a 2-0 victory over rivals, Real Madrid, which surely confirms that is the best player heading to the World Cup in South Africa this summer.

Currently he is the Fifa World Player of the year and twice runner up before that, not to mention scooping Fifa’s Young Player of the year honour for three consecutive seasons. It is not as though Messi has just emerged from nowhere. Domestically, Messi has won it all already: three La Liga titles, the Spanish Cup, three Spanish Supercups, the Champions League on two occasions as well as the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup. What’s more, with his best years still ahead of him, Messi is only likely to get better as a player and add to that already impressive trophy haul.

One trophy that Messi will firmly have in his sights in the near future is the World Cup 2010 in South Africa, where he will be heading with Argentina to try and help try and win the biggest honour of them all. Whilst this won’t be Messi’s first appearance at the World Cup finals, it will be the first in which he will play a leading role for his country. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Messi became the youngest player to represent Argentina at a World Cup aged 19, coming on as substitute and scoring the final goal in the 6-0 defeat of Serbia. He only played a bit part for the remainder of that World Cup, warming the bench until Argentina were knocked out in the Quarter Finals to hosts, Germany.

A lot has changed within the set up of the Argentina national team since 2006, namely in the dugout where Diego Maradona is now Head Coach. The man who is acknowledged as single handedly (literally if you’re an England fan) winning the World Cup for Argentina in 1986 was appointed as manager in 2008 and made hard work of his first task, to guide his country to the World Cup in South Africa. Argentina eventually qualified but only by winning their final game following six defeats in the group. Maradona’s position was even questioned at one stage when it looked as though the team wouldn’t be going to Finals, a situation not helped by the fact that he fielded no fewer than 90 different players during the qualification campaign. Luckily for Argentina, Maradona’s squad rotation appears to have calmed down and only 23 can board the plane to South Africa and more importantly, Lionel Messi has been a regular feature in the starting XI and will be the first name on the team sheet come the World Cup.

Many comparisons have been drawn between Messi and Maradona as the World Cup approaches. Thankfully for Messi, the comparisons relate to Maradona’s prodigy like ability on the football pitch to wow crowds with his skills and goals and not his much reported off-field problems. In the same way that Maradona announced himself to the World during Mexico ’86 having had prior World Cup experience, Messi will have similar expectations on his shoulders in 2010. However, where Messi differs from his manager is that he is four years younger than Maradona was in 1986 and has much more experience and is proven at club level, a thought that must strike fear in to the 31 other teams at the World Cup.

In the Group Stage of this year’s tournament, Argentina has been drawn in Group B and will play Nigeria, South Korea and Greece, none of which should pose any great danger to Argentina, whom you have got to fancy to top the group with maximum points. Messi must be also be eyeing up getting on the score sheet in all three group matches, laying down his claim for the FIFA Golden Boot award early on in the competition and all three opponents, none of whom are known for their World Cup pedigree, must be fearing the worst. Messi, who has scored 13 goals in 43 games for his country, is joint favourite to win the Golden Boot alongside Spain’s David Villa. Messi is sure to have competition in front of goal in the form of team mate, Carlos Tevez, who is equally as likely to fancy his chances of getting amongst the goals in South Africa. The Manchester City striker has been in good form all season in the Premier League and having surpassed 20 goals for the season domestically and he will no doubt be confident that he can continue that good run at the World Cup and the two together could form a devastating partnership.

As for the other members of the Argentina squad, not all are in the mould of Messi and Tevez but they do possess players of ability and familiar names likely to feature in Maradona’s starting XI include one time Premiership midfielder, Juan Sebastian Veron, who will be joined in the centre of the park by Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano and Newcastle United’s Gutierrez. However, there is no getting away from the fact that only one player will be responsible for the fate of Argentina in South Africa. Football fans must now wait with bated breath to see if Messi can replicate his performances and achievements for Barcelona for his country at the World Cup. If he does, then expect to see Argentina progress a long way in the tournament and just like Maradona 24 years ago, Messi’s performances are likely to be the difference between success and failure. Portugal has Ronaldo, England has Wayne Rooney, Brazil boast Kaka, however, are any of the world’s other leading players capable of having the impact that Messi has proven he has on so many occasions in South Africa?

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