Lionel Messi is proving his critics wrong at this year’s FIFA World Cup…
The 37-year-old Argentine soccer star – his country’s team captain – has lit up the World Cup stage with four goals in his first three games, matching Brazil’s Neymar, his fellow teammate at FC Barcelona, for the most goals so far.
Messi, who has had to contend with critics who say he never delivers when playing in an Argentina jersey, has now scored more times in this tournament than his previous two World Cups combined.
Messi’s wwo goals against Nigeria in Wednesday’s 3-2 victory helped Argentina secure the top spot in Group F and move the team into the Round of 16.
“Messi is one heck of a player,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi told reporters. “You can’t take that away from him. He’s blessed. I think there are other players in the Argentina squad who are very strong, but Messi is from Jupiter.”
Messi left Argentina for Spain at the age of 13 — a move which led many in his homeland to question whether he had taken on a Catalan identity by the time he grew into one of the world’s greats.
That myth will surely be extinguished should Messi lead his country to its first World Cup triumph since 1986 — and the signs are increasingly encouraging.
He has now scored 42 goals in 88 international appearances while playing with an energy which suggests he may have been saving his best for last following a relatively poor season at Barcelona, which was interrupted by injury.
That goal, which came just moments after Diego Maradona — arguably Argentina’s greatest ever player — had left the stadium, appeared to signal his arrival as the nation’s new hero.
Messi, who turned 27 on Tuesday, said the perfect birthday gift would be the World Cup title — and given his recent performances, it looks like that’s quite possible.