Lionel Messi’s World Cup history: Struggles, heartbreak and magic for Argentina

The 35-year-old forward will make his 26th World Cup finals appearance this weekend

Tom White
Friday 16 December 2022 08:22 GMT
Lionel Messi will become the World Cup appearance record holder on Sunday (Mike Egerton/PA)
Lionel Messi will become the World Cup appearance record holder on Sunday (Mike Egerton/PA)

Lionel Messi will break the record for the most World Cup appearances when he leads Argentina out against France in Sunday’s final.

Barring injury, Messi will beat Germany great Lothar Matthaus’ record with his 26th appearance at the finals since his debut 16 years ago.

Here we look at his history on the game’s biggest stage.


Appearances: 3, Goals: 1

Messi was used mainly from the bench in his first World Cup as a teenager, coming on to score a late goal and round off a 6-0 win over Serbia – then known as Serbia and Montenegro.

He started against the Netherlands in Argentina’s final group game but was back as a substitute in the last-16 extra-time win over Mexico on his 19th birthday. He was not involved as the Albiceleste exited on penalties in their quarter-final against Germany.


Appearances: 5, Goals: 0

By now a fully-fledged starter and wearing his trademark number 10 shirt, Messi played every minute of Argentina’s campaign but was kept off the scoresheet in all five games.

He did manage an assist for Carlos Tevez as they again beat Mexico in the last 16 – but once more they were eliminated in the next round by Germany, this time 4-0.


Appearances: 7, Goals: 4

Germany continued to frustrate Argentina and Messi, but not before he had inspired them to the final at the Maracana home of arch-rivals Brazil.

Messi played all but 23 minutes of his side’s seven games, scoring four goals and also netting in the penalty shoot-out that saw off the Netherlands in the semi-final. He was named player of the tournament for his efforts.

Lionel Messi reacts after the World Cup final


Appearances: 4, Goals: 1

A disappointing tournament for Argentina under the management of Jorge Sampaoli, but Messi largely remained as impressive as ever.

He opened the scoring against Nigeria in their final group game as they bounced back from a 3-0 loss to Croatia with a vital win. Having drawn with Iceland in their opening match – a game in which Messi missed a penalty – Argentina had done enough to limp through to the last 16 but waiting for them there were Group C winners France, who came out on top of a 4-3 barnstormer despite two Messi assists.


Appearances: 6, Goals: 5

With the current tournament being painted, Michael Jordan-style, as a “Last Dance” for Messi, he has been a talismanic presence once more and inspired their run to the final after a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia.

The 35-year-old has scored in five of their six games – admittedly with the help of four penalties, netting three – to jointly lead the Golden Boot standings with France forward and Paris St Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe.

Three assists on top of that mean he has been directly involved in eight of Argentina’s 12 goals, with his mesmeric run to set up the third against Croatia for Julian Alvarez arguably his most memorable contribution of another stellar tournament.

All-time appearances: 25, Goals: 11

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