Will Lionel Messi Finally Deliver in the World Cup?

Lionel Messi has consistently underperformed on the world stage, but will that change in Brazil?

One is in his prime at the age of 26, while the other is 33 years old and on the back end of a long career. One stands at a pint-sized 5'7'', while the other a towering 6'7''. One is almost impossible to get off of the ball, whose skill set is compared to legends like Maradona and Pele. The closest the other came to being compared to a legend was having the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Crouchinho”, given to him by an announcer.

Of Lionel Messi, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, “He made the impossible possible, he is unstoppable, he is the best player in the world by some distance."

Meanwhile, Peter Crouch has never been viewed as more than a role player. I bring this up not to slight Peter Crouch; he was certainly a viable option for England in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Instead, I bring it up to illustrate the enormous disparity in quality between the two, yet somehow these two men could not be closer when it comes to total number of World Cup goals, scored at one a piece.

That lone goal came in 2006, in Messi’s first game in a World Cup. He scored in the 88th minute, which would be the last goal in a 6-0 route of Serbia and Montenegro. Since then, Messi has played in seven other World Cup matches, failing to hit the back of the net in any of those games, which is an anomaly for a man with his goal scoring pedigree.

Messi has a 662 minute-to-goal ratio in World Cup play, which is a far cry from his 88.8 minute-to-goal ratio in La Liga. To put that in perspective, of players who are regarded as the best strikers in the world, Luis Suarez has the next best minute-to-goal ratio at 92.7. Other notable world-class strikers aren’t even close. Cristiano Ronaldo is at 109.0, Robin Van Persie at 133.0, Sergio Aguero has a 134.2 and Wayne Rooney has put together a 164.2 rate. Messi also holds the record for most goals in a calendar year, when he managed to put in 91 goals back in 2012. He's coming off what many critics have labeled a “bad” season, which saw him net just 28 goals, merely three shy of the league leader Cristiano Ronaldo.

To say that Messi is underperforming for Argentina would be an understatement. With Lionel in the mix, Argentina has yet to make it past the quarterfinals, which has led many people to wonder why he can’t preform on the world stage. With his club team FC Barcelona, Messi has won just about everything. He has been named World Player of the Year a record four times. He led Barcelona to six La Liga titles, three UEFA Champions League crowns and two Copa del Rey victories. But with all of that success on the club level, the burden of winning a World Cup for his country still weighs heavy on Messi’s mind.

In an interview with last week, Messi said, "I don't think any player can be considered a true great until they have won the World Cup. I hope that I can do that and I hope I can do that this summer. But until then I don't talk about me as the best."

Many of the 2010 squad is back, and most of the players are even better than they were after four years of top-flight club football. Mainly Angel di Maria, who just put on a show while leading Real Madrid to the Champions League crown, and Sergio Aguero, who has now become one of the best strikers in the world. He leads the line for Manchester City who has won the Premier League in two out of his three seasons with the club.

Maybe this is why Argentina has a 12.78% chance to win the entire tournament, coming in as numberFire’s second-ranked team with a nERD score of 3.18. While that may not seem like a high percentage, they're only one of five teams who have greater than a 10 percent chance to win.

After landing in the favorable Group F, where the other three teams in the group (Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria) have a combined 0.59% chance of winning the tournament, expectations are justifiably high. Not only that, but winning their group stage would pit them against the runner up in Group E for the round of 16, which aside from France is another weak group. Argentina could possibly waltz into the round of eight before playing a serious contender. Most people expect them to, and are expecting the charge to be led by Messi.

The stars have aligned rather favorably for Messi and Argentina to experience World Cup success, and for Messi to fill the one void on his resume. After being compared to Maradona his entire career, this is Messi’s chance to recreate Diego’s 1986 World Cup, where he led Argentina to a victory against West Germany all while capturing the imagination of not just Argentineans, but soccer fans across the world.

Maradona was unanimously voted as the best player in the tournament that year, and a statue of him scoring the ‘Goal of the Century’ was placed at the entrance of the Azteca stadium in Mexico. These are the things that happen when you preform in a World Cup; this is what it means to be the best. You take on a legendary status beyond the trophies and the money. You become entrenched in the rich history of the sport.

Lionel Messi must come through for Argentina this summer, much like he has come through for Barcelona throughout his career. Messi is chasing his piece of soccer legend, and I believe he can finally achieve it this summer in Brazil. Whether or not Messi himself considers his accomplishments until now to be on the level of “a true great”, he’ll have a chance to convince the world of it after this World Cup.