Lionel Messi has been warned by Cristiano Ronaldo after Argentina’s World Cup triumph | Football | Sport


Cristiano Ronaldo’s Qatar experience should serve as a warning to Lionel Messi to resist the temptation to play on until the next World Cup. Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni made a point of leaving the door open for Messi to keep going until 2026 in North America.

He will be 39 by then but there were precedents at this World Cup in Brazil’s Dani Alves and Canada’s Atiba Hutchinson who turned out for their countries in Qatar a year short of his 40th birthday. “We need to save him a spot for the World Cup 2026,” said Scaloni.

“If he wants to keep playing, he will be with us. He is more than entitled to decide whether he wants to keep playing for Argentina or not or what he wants to do with his career.” However, the traumatic exit of Messi’s long-time rival Ronaldo at Qatar 2022 is a pointer to the Argentina captain not to try to defeat Father Time.

At 37, Ronaldo was reduced to the role of bit-part substitute for Portugal and left the tournament in tears after their quarter-final loss to Morocco. While that does not undo all the great things Ronaldo has done for his country, the final image of him at a World Cup was a sad one.

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Contrast that with Messi on the pitch at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday night with his wife and children, the happiest man in the world. As a full stop to an international career that is impossible to top.

Messi’s intention is to play on for Argentina for the foreseeable future – “I want to keep on experiencing a few more matches as world champion” – he said after the game. He has scored 98 goals for his country during his incredible career so there is an obvious target to reach for there.

But three and a half years is a long time away. He defied the ageing process across the tournament to win the Golden Ball for best player but he was probably feeling his age yesterday after an Argentina party which started in the dressing room and continued on a midnight open-top bus journey down Lusail Boulevard serenaded by an enormous fireworks display.

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“World champions! I dreamed it so many times. I wanted it so much that I still haven’t come to ground, I can’t believe it,” he wrote on Instagram. Thank you very much to my family, to all who support me and also to all who believed in us.

“We demonstrated once again that Argentines when we fight together and united we are capable of achieving what we set out to do. The praise belongs to this group, which is above individuals. It was the strength of all fighting for the same dream that was also the dream of all Argentines and we did it!

“Go Argentina! We are seeing each other very soon.” Messi is flying back to Argentina with the squad to join the mass celebrations that have engulfed the country. He should enjoy the adulation, he has earned it. But he shouldn’t be seduced into spoiling a wonderful legacy.

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