PSG and Argentine striker Lionel Messi will walk out the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium tunnel on Saturday night with the expectations of millions on his shoulders when his ‘Albiceleste’ side face Australia in the last 16 of the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
That is nothing new, of course, for this will be the 1,000th match of a remarkable career that may yet to have peaked – though that will depend on whether Messi can inspire his country past Australia and all the way to World Cup glory.
Now aged 35, Messi has already accepted this will be his final chance to lift the most famous trophy of them all, a little over a year on from helping La Albiceleste end their 28-year wait for a major title with Copa America success.
Ahead of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner’s milestone match, we look at the numbers behind his previous 999 appearances for club and country – and why the next two weeks could yet define his career.
1,000 not out
Some 18 years and 48 days on from that first appearance for FC Barcelona comes game number 1,000 for club and country – and what a truly huge occasion it is for Messi and Argentina, who recovered from a slow start in the group phase to advance.
Messi has featured in 22 previous World Cup matches – one more than Diego Maradona as the most ever for an Argentina player – scoring eight times and assisting six more.
Incredibly for a player of his game-changing quality, Messi has yet to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup – 23 efforts, zero goals. Interestingly, the same is also true of archenemy Cristiano Ronaldo (25 shots without a goal).
Lionel Messi of Argentina Brendan Moran – FIFAGetty
The aim for Messi will be to put that right against Australia on what will be his 169th senior cap, 17 years on from his senior international bow against Hungary, which came just 10 games into his career for club and country.
And while it will be a special occasion for Messi, the man many consider to be the greatest of all time will hope to make it to 1,003 matches before Argentina’s Qatar campaign concludes.
Should that be the case and Argentina go on to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1986, a centre-stage Messi will have the defining moment of a truly special career that still has some way to go yet.