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Why Lionel Messi winning World Cup is such a big deal: Argentina star cements status as greatest ever with FIFA championship win

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Lionel Messi finally got his crown.

La Pulga put on a display for the ages throughout the 2022 World Cup. And his showcase in the final — bagging two goals while helping create a third — cemented his status as the greatest player in history.

For many, that was already the case. The diminutive playmaker has long been considered among the game’s greats, a magician of sorts who has conjured countless enchanting moments.

But he didn’t have the World Cup trophy. And for some, that was enough to place him beneath the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and others.

MORE: Tracking Lionel Messi throughout an epic World Cup final

That’s not the case anymore. In what is likely his final World Cup tournament, Messi nabbed that all important golden trophy. Here’s why it matters:

Why Messi winning the World Cup matters

Messi cements status as game’s greatest ever player

Messi is among the greatest athletes in the world. But he didn’t quite have his crown, at least not at national team level.

The Little Magician has won every trophy at club level. But up until a few years ago, he had failed to capture major hardware with Argentina.

Messi and the rest of his Albiceleste teammates secured their first major honors with a victory last year in the Copa America, South America’s continental competition. But the glint World Cup trophy still evaded him.

It’s not as if he hadn’t put on sparkling displays in the sky blue and white: Messi dazzled at the 2014 World Cup, leading Argentina to the brink of the title. But a missed Gonzalo Higuain chance, coupled with a stunning goal from then-teenager Mario Gotze, broke Argentine hearts.

Messi starred in the 2018 iteration of the competition as well. But Argentina were felled by Kylian Mbappe’s France side, who went on to win the entire tournament.

At 35 years old, there simply wasn’t much time left for Messi to file a claim for soccer’s greatest ever prize. For some, that was a stick to beat the all-time great with. Not anymore, though. Because not only did he win the World Cup, but he did so with a sublime performance, winning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. It doesn’t get better than that.

MORE: Everything to know about Lionel Messi: Trophies, net worth, and family

Messi-Ronaldo ‘argument’ put to bed

For many, Lionel Messi’s name is tethered to that of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. The pair came to prominence around the same time. Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid clashed at least twice each season during their tenures, further fortifying the rivalry.

While the two are vastly different players, their dominance over the years has led many to proclaim either of the pairing as the greatest player ever. However, both were lacking a World Cup win to cement their status.

Messi’s showcase throughout the 2022 tournament — especially when contrasted to Ronaldo’s disappointing display — seemingly puts the arguments comparing both stars to a rest. Messi and Argentina have a world title. Ronaldo and Portugal do not.

FARRELL: Messi is the GOAT, with or without a win in the World Cup final

Messi joins Maradona in Argentine lore

Lionel Messi isn’t the first tiny No. 10 to take the reins of Argentina. In fact, in many ways — from his mazy dribbles to his sumptuous playmaking — Messi was following in the footsteps of Argentine legend Diego Maradona.

Maradona, known by many as “Pelusa”, was an icon of the beautiful game, another figure who very well has a case as football’s greatest ever player. He put an exclamation point on his spectacular career by nearly singlehandedly leading Argentina to the World Cup title in 1986.

Aesthetically, Messi and Maradona’s games share a lot of similarities. Maradona even coached Messi for a bit. But Messi couldn’t quite claim the title of greatest ever Argentinian without the World Cup, at least to many.

With his victory on Sunday, though, Messi joins Maradona and Mario Kempes in Argentine lore as players who have led La Albiceleste to World Cup glory.


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