Monday, October 2, 2023

Argentina vs. France: Which records could Lionel Messi break in World Cup final?

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All eyes will be on Lionel Messi on Sunday as he goes in search of the one trophy missing from his bulging trophy cabinet.

The 35-year-old will lead his Argentina side out for the World Cup final against France, in what Messi himself has admitted is likely to be his last-ever game on the biggest stage.

Messi has suffered heartbreak in one World Cup final before and will be desperate to inspire his country to their first title since 1986, having starred throughout the campaign so far.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is still in contention to win the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball in addition to the top prize, but those are not the only things up for grabs on Sunday.

Messi’s list of records is already far too long to list, but he could add yet more to his legendary resume this weekend by writing his name further into World Cup folklore.

Here, Sports Mole looks at what records Messi could break in the showpiece event in Qatar.

Barring a Ronaldo-esque bout of illness or injury in the buildup to the final, Messi is guaranteed to break at least one record before he has even kicked a ball on Sunday.

The Argentine’s semi-final outing against Croatia saw him draw level with Lothar Matthaus on 25 World Cup appearances, meaning that the final will see him become the first player in history to have played in 26 matches in the tournament.

Most World Cup minutes
While Matthaus and Messi currently hold the joint record for most World Cup appearances, neither boast the most minutes played at a World Cup – a mark currently held by Italy legend Paolo Maldini.

The former AC Milan stalwart has 2,216 World Cup minutes to his name, while Messi is only just behind on 2,194, meaning that he will surpass Maldini’s record in the 23rd minute of the final, assuming he starts.

Most World Cup goal involvements

The above two records highlight Messi’s remarkable longevity, while this one showcases his continued effectiveness in the final third, with the iconic number 10 sitting on the verge of becoming the first player to record 20 direct goal involvements at the World Cup since records began in 1966.

Messi’s stunning assist for Julian Alvarez’s second goal in the semi-final win over Croatia was his 19th direct goal involvement at a World Cup, made up of 11 goals and eight assists.

That tally puts him level with Miroslav Klose (16 goals, three assists), Ronaldo (15 goals, four assists) and Gerd Muller (14 goals, five assists) with the most in the history of the tournament.

Messi therefore just needs either a goal or an assist in the final to move out on his own as the most effective attacking player in World Cup history.

Most World Cup games with a goal involvement

Messi’s 19 World Cup goal involvements have come in 13 different matches, putting him level with Brazil legend Ronaldo for the most World Cup games with either a goal or an assist.

The Argentine’s penalty against Croatia saw him draw level with Ronaldo in those standings, meaning that a goal or an assist in the final on Sunday would see him move into a class of his own.

Most World Cup assists
Messi’s magical assist for Alvarez against Croatia not only saw him reach 19 goal involvements, it also saw him record his eighth World Cup assist, moving level with compatriot Diego Maradona at the top of the all-time list since records began in 1966.

One more assist in the final will put himself out on his own once again, while in Qatar he has already surpassed Maradona’s previous best marks for most chances created overall and most chances created from open play at World Cups.

In addition to that, Messi is already the first player to provide an assist at five separate World Cup tournaments – 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022.

Most World Cup wins

This is a record Messi could equal rather than break, but it would nonetheless enhance his reputation as one of the competition’s greatest-ever players.

Victory over Croatia in the semi-final was Messi’s 16th win at a World Cup, leaving him just one short of Miroslav Klose’s record of winning 17 World Cup games.

Achieving that mark in the final of the tournament and his last-ever World Cup outing would be the ideal swansong for Messi, but only victory will do.

First player to win multiple World Cup Golden Balls
Despite Pele winning three World Cups, Maradona appearing in four World Cups and a host of other legends gracing the biggest stage, no player has ever won the Golden Ball for best player at the tournament more than once.

Messi accepted the prize in 2014 – albeit reluctantly in the aftermath of his side’s defeat to Germany in the final – and is well in contention to win it again courtesy of his five goals and three assists at the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

Kylian Mbappe appears to be his closest rival, while Antoine Griezmann could also be in contention, meaning that the destination of this particular award – and the record which could come with it – may come down to who performs better on the day.

Jairzinho’s 1970 record of being the only player to score in every game at a World Cup remains intact and unchallenged in the final, but Messi could become the first player to score in every round of the tournament since the last 16 was introduced.

The 35-year-old netted against Saudi Arabia and Mexico in the group stage, before also registering against Australia in the round of 16, Netherlands in the quarter-final and Croatia in the semi-final.

No player has ever scored in the groups, last 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final of a World Cup before, leaving Messi just one goal away from achieving that unique milestone.

Most World Cup man of the match awards at a single tournament

Messi has been named man of the match in four of his six appearances at the 2022 World Cup so far, equalling the record he already jointly held with Wesley Sneijder for the most man of the match awards in a single tournament.

Admittedly, records for those awards only began in 2002, but Messi could still become the first man to be named the best player in five separate games at a single World Cup with a star showing on Sunday.

Such an achievement would also see him extend a record he currently holds of 10 World Cup man of the match awards in total, three clear of Cristiano Ronaldo at the moment.

Highest shot involvement

While it is not a record which will be immediately quotable or memorable, the percentage of Argentina shots which Messi has been involved in at this World Cup underlines his importance to the team.

Maradona’s 1986 World Cup is often cited as the most dominant individual performance across the course of a tournament, as he dragged La Albiceleste to the title in Mexico.

During that tournament Maradona was involved in 56.4% of Argentina’s shots – a record in the competition for any team that has made it to at least the quarter-finals since 1966.

At Qatar in 2022, Messi has so far been involved in 56.3% of Argentina’s shots – only 0.1% behind Maradona’s mark, putting him well within reach of setting a new World Cup bar this weekend.

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