Argentina captain Lionel Messi said yesterday that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will “surely” be the last of his career. “It’s my last World Cup, surely. I feel good physically, I was able to do a very good pre-season this year, which I couldn’t do last year. It was essential to get to where I am, with a good state of mind and a lot of hope,” the 35-year-old told ESPN Argentina.
Messi, who is due to appear in his fifth World Cup, made his international debut in 2005 and has since won 164 caps for Argentina and is the country’s all-time record scorer with 90 goals.
In the interview, which took place in Paris where Messi plays for Paris Saint-Germain, he admitted he was nervous about the impending tournament in Qatar. “There is anxiety, nerves about the World Cup,” he said. “We can’t wait for it to start.”
Messi’s international debut as a substitute against Hungary in 2005 lasted just two minutes before he was sent off but he quickly established himself in the national team set-up and travelled to Germany for his first World Cup in 2006. He went on to play in the 2010 edition in South Africa, 2014 in Brazil, where Argentina reached the final, and 2018 in Russia.
The current side, under the management of Lionel Scaloni has now gone 35 games without defeat and is likely to figure as one of the pre-tournament favourites for the Qatar tournament.
“We have reached a good moment, with a very well-equipped and very strong group, but anything can happen,” said Messi.
“All the games are very difficult. The favourites are not always the ones who end up winning or taking the path that one expected. Argentina is always a candidate because of its history and what it means. But we are not the only favourites, there are other teams that are above us.”
Messi believes his team has a good chance of winning the tournament. “In a World Cup, anything can happen. All the matches are very tough. The favourites don’t always end up winning,” Messi said. “I don’t know if we’re the favourites, but Argentina is always a candidate because of its history. Now even more so because of the moment we’re in, but we are not the favourites. I think there are other teams that are above us.”
I have been playing with the national team for a long time now,” Messi said. “There have been spectacular moments, like in 2014, 2015 and 2016 but we didn’t win and were criticised for not being champions. We did everything right until the finals.”
Messi said he was heading to Qatar with a positive outlook as the elder statesman in a team full of young talent who ended Argentina’s 28-year wait for an international trophy with their Copa America victory. “It’s been very hard, but in 2019 a new group with many young people came and won the Copa America. That helped us a lot,” he added.
Argentina face the United Arab Emirates in their final warm-up match in November before playing Saudi Arabia in their opening Group C game at the World Cup on November 22. Mexico and Poland are the other teams in the group. Meanwhile, PSG coach Christophe Galtier allayed fears about a possible injury to Messi on Wednesday, saying the Argentine forward had asked to be substituted due to tiredness late in their 1-1 Champions League draw with Benfica.
Messi, who put PSG ahead in the 22nd minute before Benfica drew level through Danilo Pereira’s own goal, was replaced by Pablo Sarabia in the 81st minute. “He gestured saying he wanted to be substituted,” Galtier said. “After making a sprint, he felt tired. He came off, because he felt tired and a fresh team mate was much better at that moment in the game.”
Argentina captain Lionel Messi will be playing his fifth World Cup in Qatar. (AFP)