Nothing is done yet for Argentina or Lionel Messi.
You all saw the tension and anxiety we went through in our match against Mexico until we scored, as well as the relief at the final whistle after our 2-0 win.
There was so much pressure on us afterwards we lost against saudi arabia and that relief was for everyone – for the whole team and all our fans here, but especially for Messi.
It would have been a terrible and painful end to see Argentina knocked out in the group stage in what is likely his last World Cup.
But we are not in the round of 16 yet. Now we have to win again – this time against Poland – to make sure we get there.
It won’t be easy and the team still needs to improve a lot, but hopefully we’ll have some confidence afterwards. beat Mexico.
And we still have Messi, of course. We have counted on him so many times in the past, and we know we can still count on him in Qatar.
It will be difficult for us to go far in this tournament, we know that. But at least we can dream of this Argentinian team again – and that’s thanks to him.
“I know how much the World Cup means to Messi”
I was there at the beginning of Messi’s journey with Argentina and I hope so much that he can finish it by lifting this World Cup.
From the first time I saw him touch the ball in the first training we had together for the U20 team, I knew he was going to be a very special player.
Of course, we had heard about Messi at Barcelona before meeting him, but it was the first time he came to play for Argentina. He didn’t say much at the time, but we gave him a warm welcome to the team and quickly realized how good he was.
He came with us to the Under-20 World Cup in the Netherlands in 2005 when he was 17. I was captain of Argentina and we won the tournament together – well, that was mostly thanks to him!
I feel so lucky to have been part of his generation; to have enjoyed watching him and playing alongside him and to have shared so many moments with him, as a teammate and as a friend.
I know the sacrifices he made and the difficult times he went through. Don’t forget that he was only 13 when he moved to Spain.
I also had to leave Argentina at a young age to progress in my career – most of our players do – and I know how difficult it was for me to adapt. But I was 20 when I joined Sevilla as a young boy.
I’m so proud of everything he’s done with his life since, but I also know how much it means to him to represent Argentina and how much he wants to lift the biggest trophy in football with us.
It’s always the same: Messi must win the World Cup
There’s a lot of love for Messi at home now, but it wasn’t always that way.
After losing the World Cup final in 2014, we lost two more finals – the Copa America in 2015 and 2016.
In Argentina, this is not enough. For some people and for some of our media, just reaching a final is not acceptable. There was a lot of criticism about Messi because we didn’t win everything like he did with Barcelona back then.
He dropped out after that and took a break from the national team to recharge his batteries, but soon realized how important it was to him.
Messi has won everything there is to win in club football, but he was desperate to come back and help us win something too. So it was amazing to see him win his first big trophy at international level, at the Copa America last year.
We won it by beating Brazil in the Maracana, which was something very special, and I loved how everyone ran to Messi at the final whistle to hug him.
The win took the pressure off him a bit and stopped people saying he didn’t play for us like he played for his club – but people still expect a lot from him at a World Cup.
It’s like he has to win – always. Nothing else is acceptable.
So, I know it can be a tough time for him mentally at these tournaments, which is why it’s important that he has the right people around him to help him relax.
What changed? Messi has matured
During the 2018 World Cup I was a pundit for the BBC in Russia and even from afar I could see that Messi looked stressed which was a real worry. The team was not well placed and we were eliminated very early.
It was totally different in 2014 when I was with him in the Argentina team that reached the final in Brazil. He led the team and he loved it.
Before the start of this tournament, I heard Leo say that there were similarities between the feelings he had then and the atmosphere in the team now. It’s a very good sign because it means that there is the same unity, and also that he is happy.
When I see pictures of the locker room now, I see a lot of fun happening, as there was in my time. But there is one big difference: Messi himself.
The photos of him giving an inspirational speech to the team before the 2021 Copa America final was something people had never seen before, and showed that he also now has leadership qualities to bring this team into something big.
When Messi speaks, everyone listens. It was the same in 2014 – but he was still a bit quiet and didn’t say much back then.
He was our captain but Javier Mascherano really took on that role instead, due to his experience and character. He was the one who was very vocal in the locker room, getting us ready for games.
Now it’s Messi himself who does that. He’s not just our best player, he’s the true leader of the team – even manager Lionel Scaloni has said that himself many times – and he’ll help them get through this tough start that way too, not just scoring goals.
It’s great to see. It’s been a long journey for him up to this point. Of course, everyone can change off the pitch and learn different things. Messi now, at 35, is more mature, he has more experience and he’s a family man – but he’s also still an incredible footballer.
If he wins this World Cup, he should retire immediately because he will have done everything. There will be nothing left for him to gain.
Pablo Zabaleta was talking to Chris Bevan in Doha, Qatar