The quest to go out on top, to end a season, a career, or even a single meeting at your absolute apex, has vexed everyone from Michael Jordan to Quentin Tarantino and, in the last instance, George Constanza, who tried to end every staff meeting at Krueger Industrial Smoothing on a high note. The trouble with this particular bit of self-actualization, at least with professional athletes trying to win one final title before calling it a day, is that too many variables are at play.
From tweaked hamstrings to blown calls to unsung heroes stealing the spotlight, all the way down to a simple gust of wind, there is no shortage of factors waiting to spoil the moment. For every David Robinson or John Elway, players who captured a title immediately before retiring, history is littered with athletes who came up short in their final shot at glory.
At age 35 and with more than 100 caps and 60 international goals to his credit, the inimitable Lionel Messi will look to close out his legendary international career by hoisting the only trophy to elude him over the past two decades: the FIFA World Cup. (At least, we think so. Can we really rule out a 39-year-old Messi showing up in 2026?)
After leading Argentina to victory in the 2021 Copa America, Messi finally put the "he can't win with Argentina" debate to rest. However, Messi, the man many believe is the greatest ever to play the game, has never made it to the finals in his four previous World Cup visits.
Messi's quest to go out on top will dominate the headlines in Qatar next month, but the likelihood of La Albiceleste winning their third World Cup rests on much more than Mess's magical feet, so let's take a quick look at what Argentina has to offer Italy fans searching for a rooting interest in Qatar.
Well, if you're an Italian-American, Italian-Canadian, Italian-Australian, or any other hyphenated byproduct of the 20th-century Italian diaspora, you likely feel a kinship with your Argentinian brothers and sisters, many of whom trace their roots back to the same waves of Italian emigrants that left the peninsula between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
And these emigres carried their love of calcio with them, embuing their new homeland with the magic and grit of Italian football. From Diego Milito to Ezequiel Lavezzi to Javier Zanetti and even Messi himself, some of the best players to ever suit up for Argentina had Italian blood coursing through their veins.
So, if you find yourself sapped of Italian pride at the moment, the other boys in blue are more than suitable stand-ins—they're our calcio cousins, after all.
Key Players (Other Than Messi)
After scoring 11 goals and 14 assists in 34 appearances (all comps) during his first season with PSG, a down season by his standards, Messi continued to carry the mantle for Argentina, scoring seven goals in 15 World Cup qualification appearances. And he's followed that up with 12 goals and 14 assists in 19 appearances for PSG so far this season.
Even at 35, Messi remains a cut above the rest, but he's far from the only name we should keep an eye on this month.
No stranger to Roma fans, the 24-year-old striker has sliced his way through Serie A defenses for the past few years, racking up 59 goals over his past 108 appearances for Inter Milan. Despite that impressive record, Martinez is only getting his feet wet with the national team, but he's jumped in head first, tying Messi for the team lead in goals during the qualification process.
And a scorching run in Qatar this month could see Martinez become a global star.
With a team-leading 1,333 minutes during qualification, defender Nicolas Otamendi has been a pillar for National Team manager Lionel Scaloni. Still, with players as varied as Lisandro Martinez, Nicolás Tagliafico, and Nahuel Molina lining up alongside Otamendi, Scaloni never managed to find a consistent partner for the 34-year-old Benfica standout.
Enter Cristian Romero... maybe.
The 24-year-old Spurs defender, formerly of Atalanta and Genoa, has missed a string of games over the past year or so with hip, adductor, and hamstring issues, the latter of which saw him miss Tottenham's final five matches before the break.
He has an outside shot to start Tuesday's match against Saudi Arabia, but when healthy, Romero is a top-notch defender, one Argentina will need fit to help send Messi out on top.
Rodrigo De Paul
With Messi and Martinez scoring the goals, someone has to deliver the goods. And that someone, at least during Argentina's qualification campaign, was former Udinese attacker Rodrigo De Paul, who provided four assists in 16 appearances en route to Qatar 2022, second only to Giovanni Lo Celso.
So why RDP and not GLC? Simple—Lo Celso is hurt. While De Paul hasn't quite repeated his Udinese form with Atletico Madrid, De Paul dished out 15 helpers in his final two seasons in Serie A. Give him enough time on the ball, and he'll find Messi and Martinez like it was, well, his job, which it is.
This is a Roma site, so we must include the Giallorossi's 29-year-old forward, right? Dybala, who recently returned from a month-long absence due to a hamstring issue, was a bit player for Argentina during their qualification campaign, logging only 77 minutes. However, Dybala could be an ace up the sleeve for Scaloni, who could deploy La Joya late in matches when chasing a lead—a luxury few nations in this tournament possess.
- Argentina vs. Saudi Arabia: November 22nd, 5 AM EST
- Argentina vs. Mexico: November 26th, 2 PM EST
- Poland vs. Argentina: November 30, 2 PM EST
While they're not the Azzurri, Argentina offers enough familiar faces and names to accommodate Italy fans during the country's unfortunate World Cup hiatus.
Messi and the boys get the party started bright and early on Tuesday, so set your alarms or don't go to sleep at all.