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Will Lionel Messi's last World Cup appearance end in a victory lap?

Will Lionel Messi's last World Cup appearance end in a victory lap?

New Delhi, Riding on a well-balanced squad knit with experience and youth, Argentina will enter the men's FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar with an aim to win their first title since 1986 and give a fitting farewell to their iconic No 10 Lionel Messi.

Bidding for their third title, Argentina are genuine contenders for the most prized piece of silverware in the game to lift the coveted trophy and it will be their 13th consecutive football World Cup, having participated in each edition since 1974. It will also be Messi's fifth and quite possibly final World Cup as the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner turned 35 this year.

The Argentina football team, also known as La Albiceleste because of its white and sky blue jersey, comes into the World Cup having won the Copa America last year after 28 years. Argentina also have most members of their Copa America-winning squad intact and in form days ahead of the mega event.

The qualifications turned out to be the most straightforward of tasks for Lionel Scaloni's side, who continue to surprise. In winning 11 matches and drawing six, they collected 39 points to finish second only to Brazil and 11 points clear of third. Impressive as those results are, it was the manner in which those points were won and the continental title claimed last year that has the Argentinians dreaming once more of World Cup glory.

Following the defeat to France at Russia 2018 and the departure of a breed that had come so close to making football history at Brazil 2014, the outlook looked gloomy for Argentina. Not only were there doubts about the potential of the new generation of players that came to replace them, but several well-known coaches turned down the opportunity to take on such a high-pressure job.

Claudio Tapia, the president of the Argentinian Football Association (AFA), eventually put his faith in the untested Lionel Scaloni, who had joined the coaching staff of previous incumbent Jorge Sampaoli in 2018. Four years on, it has turned out to be an inspired choice.

Albiceleste star Messi is 35 but even at this age, he remains as influential as ever. The No10 has adapted his game to the inevitable impact of the passage of time and will be Argentina's ace card on their Qatari adventure.

Having finally won a trophy for his country, he now goes in search of the one piece of silverware missing from his long list of honours. Though not the athlete he was in his younger years and though no longer able to dominate games from start to finish, Messi still has decisive contributions to make in creating and finishing moves.

There is nothing left to say about the wizardry of his left foot, his sheer talent, his exquisite set-piece skills, his vision and reading of the game or his goal scoring ability, devilish dribbling and gift for exploiting any shortcomings the opposition may have. Messi has spent nearly two decades at the pinnacle of world football and will travel to Qatar intent on filling the one gap on his CV.

While much of the focus will remain on Messi, coach Scaloni will have the support of veteran Angel Di Mar�a on the attacking front. Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo De Paul are expected to carry the midfield while defender Cristian Romero, who plays as a centre-back for Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, and Nicolas Otamendi will be Argentina's pillars in defence.

Placed in Group C, Argentina will play their opening match against Saudi Arabia on November 22.

La Albiceleste will face Mexico on November 26 and then take on Poland four days later.

With a settled line-up, a new breed that can do justice to the jersey and Scaloni's tactical acumen, Argentina have their sights set on World Cup number three and a fitting farewell to talismanic Messi.

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