When he plays for Argentina, Lionel Messi is arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time. But when he turns up for Argentina, he looks like a man under pressure who struggles to do justice to his talent.
The curse of being a world class footballer from Argentina is that you will always be compared to Diego Maradona. And if the yardstick for greatness is to singlehandedly win a World Cup, Messi always comes short.
While he scores goals and beats defenders for fun while winning trophies with Barcelona, it is almost as if he is bogged down by the pressure for owing Argentina a World Cup every time he puts on the white and blue stripes.
But while Maradona's shadow has always loomed on him, Messi used to have the upper hand against his contemporary, Cristiano Ronado. He had five Ballon d'Ors to Ronaldo's one and also had more Champions League trophies.
But Ronaldo has caught up. He is also on five Ballon d'Or titles now and has five Champions League trophies. To add to that, he won the 2016 Euro with Portugal. Messi meanwhile has lost three major finals on the trot with Argentina.
On the eve of Argentina's 2018 World Cup opener, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick for Portugal including a last-gasp freekick in the 3-3 draw with Spain. It added the pressure on Messi to deliver. To pile on the pressure, Maradona was in the stadium to watch his beloved Argentina play.
Messi ended up botching a penalty as Argentina were held to a tame 1-1 draw by minnows Iceland. The headlines as expected were all about Messi. What was lost on everyone was that both Portugal and Argentina had drawn their opening game. But Ronaldo's hat-trick made Portugal's result look better.
Now ahead of Argentina's next game against Croatia, Ronaldo scored again in Portugal's 1-0 win over Morocco to go clear at the top of the goalscoring charts. Messi meanwhile has none at the current World Cup.
The game against Croatia is make or break for Argentina. Maradona will most definitely be at the stadium again. All eyes will be on Messi. Let's just hope he performs this time!
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