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Time running out for Messi but are World Cup stars aligning?

By AFP - Nov 21,2022 - Last updated at Nov 21,2022

DOHA — Spain coach Luis Enrique said earlier this week it would be “unfair” if Argentina great Lionel Messi were never to win the World Cup.

But the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is running out of time and opportunities.

Alongside Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the Qatar extravaganza will likely be the fifth and last World Cup for one of the two outstanding players of their generation — believed by many to be the two greatest footballers of all time.

Unlike previous contenders for the title of greatest of all time — Brazil’s Pele and Diego Maradona of Argentina — at least one, and maybe both, will never lift football’s greatest prize.

Yet in the case of Messi, this may well be his best chance yet to win that elusive prize.

He cut a distraught figure in 2014 after Argentina succumbed 1-0 to Germany in the final in Brazil, even briefly announcing his international retirement in 2016.

He changed his mind and last year led Argentina to their first major title in 28 years, defeating hosts Brazil in the Copa America final by the same scoreline and in the same Maracana stadium where they had floundered seven years earlier.

Argentina head into this tournament on the back of a 36-match unbeaten run as one of the clear favourites.

Their group does not appear, on paper at least, the most taxing.

They begin against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, followed by clashes with Mexico and Poland.

“Argentina are one of the favourites for the whole World Cup,” said Poland forward Robert Lewandowski earlier this week.

“They have not lost for 30-odd games, they’re very dangerous opponents for everyone.”

Midfielder Abdulellah Al Malki insists he will not be overawed by the occasion.

“He’s a legend and it’s a dream for any player to play against him, but we represent Saudi Arabia and we fear no-one,” he said. 

Messi’s predecessor as Argentina icon, the late Maradona secured his footballing immortality by inspiring the country to their second world title in 1986.

Messi would desperately love to add World Cup glory to all his other accolades that include four Champions League crowns and 10 La Liga titles.

Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said Monday that his team have come to Qatar to win the World Cup as they prepare for their Group D opener against Tunisia.

The Danes reached the semifinals of the European Championship last year despite losing their opening game after talisman Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch with a cardiac arrest. 

They come into the tournament on the back of a strong qualifying campaign and two Nations League wins over group rivals France.

The Danes will likely be tussling for first place with world champions France, as the runners-up will almost certainly be playing Argentina in the second round.

And Hjulmand, whose team also face Australia in the group stage, was bullish about his team’s chances with Eriksen firmly back in the fold and in top form.

“Are we favourites? No... but we can beat everyone on the day and we have a very strong self-confidence,” added Hjulmand.

“We have a very good group of players working together and the best way of winning everything is to dream big.”

 

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