A collective sigh of relief echoes around Argentina tonight and nowhere is it likely to be so loud as in Lionel Scaloni’s house.
Lionel Messi’s performance in Paris Saint-Germain’s 3-0 Ligue 1 win over Ajaccio will be gone La Albiceleste’s head coach rubbed his hands in glee and further eased any injury fears keeping the former Barcelona superstar to a World Cup final appearance. Messi took two assists, both for Kylian Mbappé, and scored just once to make eight goals and eight assists in 14 games in all competitions so far this term.
When Messi was forced off in the Champions League game away to Benfica earlier this month, PSG boss Christophe Galtier blamed muscle fatigue. Days later, a scan revealed that the Argentina captain had, in fact, suffered a muscle contraction in his calf. Of course, it’s not normally a serious injury, but the World Cup was just over a month away…
And not just any World Cup – Messi’s last World Cup. “This will be my last World Cup, for sure. The decision has been made. Counting the days until the World Cup. On the one hand, I can’t wait for it to arrive, but I’m really desperate for it to go well.” he said on Argentine television.
After missing a league game against Reims and the reverse European game against Benfica, Messi returned to PSG’s squad for Le Classique against Marseille, playing for 79 minutes before being substituted, with no sign of aggravating the injury. But it will be Friday night’s performance that will put the Argentinian’s – and others’ – momentum into the races. Not only is the forward 90 minutes closer to being ready for his final appearance on the biggest international stage of all, but he looked to be in sharp form alongside new partner Kylian Mbappé.
The irresistible flick of the needle led to two assists for Mbappéwho returned the favor after a sumptuous link-up game, with Messi’s cool finish in the second half showing that his difficult attempt to chip Ajaccio goalkeeper Benjamin Leroy early in the game was just a bit of rust. Even by the Rosario native’s incredibly high standards, this was impressive stuff.
And the fact that Galtier left his star play active for the entire 90 minutes can only be read as another sign that he is fit and healthy.
In another interview this week, Messi named Brazil and France as his two big favorites to win the World Cup, without mentioning his own nation when discussing possible contenders. But there is no doubt that he will have high hopes of lifting the one trophy that has continually eluded himwhich would further cement his legacy.
And it did not go unnoticed that Messi has currently played 988 competitive matches in his careermeaning that if he played in five of PSG’s six pre-tournament games (possibly rested for one) and if Argentina progressed to the final, the World Cup appearance would be his 1,000th match in senior football.
Maybe some things are just meant to be?