2018 could be footballer Lionel Messi’s last chance for World Cup win

Latin America

Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi gestures during a training session at the team’s base camp in Bronnitsy, near Moscow, Russia on June 11, 2018 ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. (AFP PHOTO / JUAN MABROMATA)

Argentine football star and captain Lionel Messi was a major influence on his team qualifying for the World Cup in Russia. But can he finally put to rest the comparisons with sports star Diego Maradona and win a World Cup?

CGTN’s Joel Richards reports.

The face of Leo Messi looks over the local football field on the block where he grew up in Rosario. 

“We are all very proud that Leo is from this neighborhood, and that he is Argentine,” said Messi’s childhood friend Diego Vallejos.

Messi’s success as a player has been shadowed at times by Diego Maradona, who captained Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup. As Argentinians watched Messi grow up, the pressure to emulate Maradona’s World Cup success has also increased.

Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi attends a training session at the FC Barcelona ‘Joan Gamper’ sports center in Sant Joan Despi, near Barcelona, on June 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / PAU BARRENA)

Even so, Messi isn’t the only footballer the city of Rosario is known for. On the current Argentina squad, senior players like Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, as well as the coach Jorge Sampaoli, are also from the area.

Cristian ‘Kily’ Gonzalez is another product of Rosario’s football clubs. He played for the Argentina national team for a decade, and said the team must bring out the best of Messi.

 “We have got the ace of spades. We have to make sure that he is happy on the pitch,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez was part of the squad that was expected to challenge for the 2002 World Cup but failed to pass the group stage. He said Argentina is desperate to win its first World Cup in over 30 years.

“We need to win a World Cup. We need to win for our people, for our national game, and for this generation of players which is one of the best in the history. Hopefully they can win the title in Russia,” he said.

Messi turns 31-years-old later this month, during the World Cup in Russia. This tournament could be his last chance to finally put to rest the Messi-Maradona debate.