Messi on brink as Argentina look to salvage World Cup26 November 2022
AFP, Doha :
It was not supposed to be this way. Before the World Cup started, hopes were high in Argentina that Lionel Messi was set for a glorious swansong.
The diminutive superstar with magic in his boots insisted he was in fine shape physically ahead of what he suggested would be his final tilt at World Cup success.
After winning La Liga 10 times, the Ballon d'Or seven times, the Champions League four times and the Copa America once, this trophy is all that is missing from Messi's massive collection of personal and collective accolades.
Argentina came into the tournament on a remarkable 36-match unbeaten streak having stunned bitter rivals Brazil in their own back yard to win last year's Copa America.
Pundits and fans the world over were proclaiming Argentina one of-if not the-favourites.
Argentines were allowing themselves to dream: one of the greatest players the world has ever seen was about to lift football's greatest prize.
But Tuesday's shock 2-1 defeat to a tactically superior and more athletic Saudi Arabia has brought them back down to earth with a bump.
The realisation is that far from coating an already delicious cake with icing, Messi's World Cup story may just be about to end in ignominious fashion.
The autopsy has already begun in Argentina.
Football pundits and fans alike are speculating whether or not the 'Pibe' was truly fit.
He had sat out a couple of group training sessions, following his own personal programme apart, because of a knock on his calf.
A picture went viral on social media of his apparently deformed ankle-although he was merely wearing an ice pack.
Fingers were even pointed at his club Paris Saint-Germain, seemingly for daring to play him week in, week out rather than wrap him in cotton wool so he could arrive at the World Cup in the best possible shape to help his country.