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Lionel Messi’s current form makes Argentina favorites to win the World Cup

Lionel Messi remains one of the greatest players of his generation. His current form could help Argentina win the World Cup and permanently enshrine him as the greatest of all time.

There are several cities that have been instrumental in the life and development of Lionel Messi’s astonishing soccer career.

First, there’s Rosario, the city of his birth. Located some 200 miles northwest of the capitol Buenos Aires, it’s where his love for soccer grew.

The other city is Barcelona, where he developed into a budding star. It’s where he spent the bulk of his pro career, helping the Catalan club win in numerous trophies, including four Champions League titles.

Last year, in a sudden turn of events, Messi signed with Paris Saint-Germain, adding the French capitol to his list of important cities.

The other city that should not be overlooked in Messi’s career is New York, specifically the suburban areas west of the Hudson River in New Jersey. In 2016, it was at MetLife Stadium, a venue known more for football than futbol, where Chile defeated Argentina on penalty kicks to win back-to-back Copa America titles as the best team in South America.

The defeat was devastating, forcing Messi to declare after that match that he was retiring from the national team. That didn’t last too long and he was eventually coaxed to return.

This past Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena, 25,000 screaming fans — many of them donning Messi jerseys — watched in delight as Argentina downed Jamaica 3-0 in a pre-World Cup friendly. It was a game punctuated by Messi’s two goals in a span of just three minutes at the end of the match. The goals put him at 90 all time for Argentina in 164 games.

“You have to enjoy Messi,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni told reporters after the game. “No matter your country, everyone does. I’m his coach and I would buy a ticket to see him.”

Messi has sent a message over the past few weeks that he’s at the top of his game and prepared to take on all challengers in Qatar come November. The World Cup is the only trophy that has eluded Messi and he will need to win it if he wants to get from under the shadow of the legendary Diego Maradona as Argentina’s all time greatest player. Many believe, myself included, that Messi needs to win a World Cup to be considered the GOAT.

Like Maradona when he led Argentina to the World Cup in 1986, this Albiceleste team is led by a superstar in Messi but has a supporting cast that isn’t always able to compete at international level. In the Jamaica game, for example, Argentina did not look as sharp as it has been over the past two years as Messi watched from the bench.

Up 1-0 and with Jamaica threatening, Messi was subbed in midway through the second half and did what he always does best. He controlled the ball, effectively put it through the channels and created chances for himself in the box. Messi ultimately scored on one of those chances in the 86th minute. He completed his brace in a mad-cap three minutes on a superbly-taken free kick as the clock ticked to the 90th minute.

This is the magical Messi who needs to show up in Qatar. Argentina is among the favorites to win it all, but this is a side that has imploded in the past, even with Messi in the lineup. The World Cup in Russia four years ago is a great example of it. Four years earlier in Brazil, Argentina lost in the final to Germany, another opportunity lost for Messi and his country.

For Messi, this could very well be his last World Cup. At age 35, he finds himself in a soccer universe dominated by players more than a decade younger such as Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.

But, like fine wine, Messi is getting better with age. He has reached top form in recent weeks. If he can carry that same form into Qatar, then Argentina could very well win its third World Cup and first since ’86. In the process, Messi would displace both Pele and Maradona as the GOAT.

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