It was almost game over for Argentina and Lionel Messi in the 2018 Fifa World Cup but after Nigeria beat Iceland, the Albiceleste got an unlikely lifeline.
Messi, who is still yet to find his touch in the first two matches, will once again be at the centre of attraction when they meet the Super Eagles in a must-win Group D tie in Saint Petersburg.
Equation is simple actually. Argentina must beat Nigeria and hope for a Croatia win against Iceland if the south Americans are to advance to the knockout stage.
An Argentina win and a draw in the Croatia-Iceland game will also see the two-time champion qualify for the Round of 16 as Group D runners-up.
Argentina are not in the best of form ahead of the all-important match with rumours spreading like wildfire that all is not well at the Albiceleste camp. Speculation of a revolt against head coach Jorge Sampaoli has been swirling around while there are also rumours that Messi might call it a day in international football if Argentina fail to qualify for the Round of 16.
Many Argentine journalists are saying the team are refusing to follow the orders of Sampaoli and that seniors like Messi will lead the team out against Nigeria.
It has also been confirmed that the Argentina Football Association will not sack Sampaoli during the greatest show on earth but remained mum on Messi’s international retirement talks.
However, Messi himself clarified the situation, saying he will not leave the Albiceleste, not before winning the World Cup.
Happy 31st Birthday to Lionel Messi: a legend, magician and quite possibly the 🐐June 24, 2018
Ballon d’Or 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
Golden Shoe 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
La Liga 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
Copa del Rey 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
Spanish Super Cup 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
FIFA Club World Cup 🏆🏆🏆
UEFA Super Cup 🏆🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/dgZX1B5dBE
"I’ve always had the dream of watching myself raise the World Cup. And then seeing the emotion that goes with it. My hair stands on end just thinking about that moment. It would make millions of Argentines in the world happy,” Messi, who turned 31 Sunday, told the media.
"So we cannot give up on that dream. I have won all the most important tournaments but I am ambitious to the end. I would not like to retire from active football without being a world champion with my country,” added the Barcelona legend.
Messi, one of the very best in his business, has enjoyed contrasting times with his club and country. He has won almost every possible trophy at Camp Nou but his international trophy cabinet is still empty.
Despite winning a couple of youth and Olympic titles, he has nothing to show to his critics. With that said, he has come close to tasting international success on quite a few occasions. Argentina only lost to Germany in extra time four years ago in Brazil at the World Cup, and lost to Chile in the tie-breaker, most recently in 2015.
Either of these trophies would have taken him on the same level as arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of international success. Ronaldo somewhat has the edge in the international arena, having single-handedly led Portugal to the Euro 2016 title.
Despite everything, Messi’s critics will still find it hard to deny his place in the pantheon of football greats.
Messi, who will be 35 in the Qatar World Cup in 2022, will probably get one final shot at glory in Russia. But he has not made the best of starts, having been unable to score and missing a penalty against Iceland. His disappointing attitude against the Croats was also a letdown.
In contrast, Ronaldo, who is also in the latter stages of his international career, started his campaign in Russia in the best possible way, scoring all four goals for Portugal. His attitude and performance have been totally different to that of Messi.
And so, the last chance saloon awaits Messi. Whether he gets support from his teammates or not, all eyes will be on the Rosario lad come Tuesday night in Saint Petersburg.