The 2018 World Cup is rapidly unfolding into a personal nightmare for Lionel Messi.
The 30-year-old forward, regarded by many football fans as the greatest player of all time, has now endured two hugely frustrating group stage matches with Argentina.
Despite his best efforts against Iceland, Messi was unable to inspire his country to all three points in Argentina’s opening game. His missed penalty in the second half summed up his afternoon.
And against Croatia on Wednesday night, the Barcelona icon was virtually anonymous in Nizhniy Novgorod.
Messi, whose body language prior to kick-off suggested he wasn’t feeling confident, was powerless to prevent his team slumping to an embarrassing 3-0 defeat and Argentina now face a humiliating group stage exit.
Second-half goals from Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic sealed a famous victory for the Croatians, who have booked their place in the knockout stages.
But in order to qualify for the next round of the World Cup, Argentina must beat Nigeria and hope Croatia defeat Iceland. Their fate is now out of their own hands.
Maradona drops truth about Messi after Croatia game
Questions are now being asked about Messi and whether he can truly be called the greatest of all time after back-to-back underwhelming performances on world football’s biggest stage.
That Cristiano Ronaldo has scored four goals in two games for Portugal at this summer’s showpiece tournament has made Messi’s performances look even worse.
However, Diego Maradona – the man who inspired Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986 and is universally regarded as one of the all-time greats – has jumped to Messi’s defence following the Croatia defeat.
Per journalist Juan Arango, Maradona told reporters after the match: “When I played and had a bad game… [Jorge] Valdano, [Jorge] Burruchaga showed up and had my back. Messi has no one. It’s all on his own.
Messi is unable to shine in this Argentina team
Indeed, Maradona has dispelled the myth that he won the World Cup single-handedly. No player is capable of doing that.
The star can only shine when the collective balance of the team is right and Argentina are a shambles right now under Jorge Sampaoli.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Messi, who knows that he may never get another chance to play at a World Cup.
In fact, it would hardly be a shock if the world-class forward decided to announce his retirement from international football after this summer’s tournament.