Will Lionel Messi Finally Capture His Elusive World Cup Title?
What makes the World Cup incredibly special is that it is an opportunity to see all the world's greatest players in action as the world's greatest tournament. There are endless storylines -- from the juggernauts of defending World Cup and Confederations Cup Champion Germany, to the remarkable underdog stories of first-time qualifiers Iceland and Panama.
But perhaps the most compelling of the storylines this summer will be what happens with Argentina and Lionel Messi.
Messi is arguably the greatest soccer player of all time and, at least in terms of his legacy, this World Cup means more to him than it does for any other player. With Barcelona, Messi has won five Ballon d'Or awards, four Champions League titles, and nine La Liga titles, but he has never been able to lift a World Cup trophy with Argentina. Of course, Argentina's failure to win the World Cup during Messi's tenure is not necessarily a poor reflection on Messi himself, but capturing the World Cup trophy with this Argentina team would be the greatest accomplishment of his entire career, which is saying something.
It's important to remember that this Argentina team, even though they have some headline names in attack (the likes of Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala), struggled mightily in qualification, nearly missing out on the World Cup. It took a Messi hat trick at Ecuador in the final round of qualifiers to secure Argentina's place in this World Cup.
As a result of their pre-World Cup struggles, our nERD metric has Argentina as the 11th-best team at the World Cup.
The good news for Argentina is that they drew a very favorable group as they will face the likes of Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria. Our models give them an 80.34% chance to advance from this group and a 46.81% chance to win the group outright. Messi should be able to dominate at this stage of the tournament, much like he did in 2014, when he scored four goals in three group stage matches, two of which came against this Nigerian team.
However, as we progress deeper in the tournament, Messi and Argentina's chances take a major hit, according to our models. We give the Argentines a minuscule 0.49% chance to win this World Cup, making them one of the worst bets to win it all when you compare our numbers to the betting odds.
Argentina will face major problems as early as the Round of 16, when they will be matched up with a Group C opponent. Odds are that they will have to take on France (87.79% chance to advance from Group C) or Denmark (65.49% chance to advance). Our game simulator gives Argentina a 40.61% chance to defeat Denmark in the knockout stages, while giving them a mere 25.73% chance to advance against France.
Even if Argentina manage to survive through to the Quarterfinals, our simulator does not compare them favorably to the other top teams in the tournament that they would probably face at this stage. Our projections give Argentina a 23.54% chance to advance against Germany, a 15.09% chance to advance against Spain, and only a 10.70% chance to win against mighty Brazil.
Argentina would likely have to defeat two or three out of Brazil, Germany and Spain to win the tournament, which would probably require a few otherworldly performances from Messi. He may be the greatest player in the sport, but expecting him to win the World Cup with this team is likely still too much to ask.