Messi's best games for Argentina: From tearing the USMNT apart to salvaging World Cup qualification
Lionel Messi is in perhaps his final World Cup, and so far, so good for the Argentina icon.
His latest performance - a goalscoring effort in the semi-final against Croatia - was one of his most important, though there are certainly many standout efforts over the years to choose from.
There may be more to come, too, with Messi set to make his second World Cup final appearance when Argentina take on holders France in the 2022 showpiece.
GOAL takes a look at some of his best-ever international performances...
Check out even more magic Messi moments!
Argentina 4-0 United States, June 21, 2016
One of Messi's greatest virtues as a player is that he is not just one of the best in scoring goals, he can also set up his team-mates with ease.
The Copa America Centenario semi-final against hosts United States showed off to perfection those two facets of his game.
Not only did he find the net with an outrageous free-kick effort, he also set up another two goals in a 4-0 rout to send the Albiceleste through to the final.
Argentina 3-0 Ecuador, July 3, 2021
More than five years had passed since Messi's last knockout goal for Argentina when Lionel Scaloni's men lined up against Ecuador in the quarter-finals of the Copa America. But while he left it late, the strike truly proved worth the wait.
The Barcelona ace had pulled all the strings for his side throughout the game, playing in both Rodrigo De Paul and Lautaro Martinez for their goals to put Argentina 2-0 ahead. Then, in injury time, it looked as though he would have the chance to add his own when Piero Hincapie appeared to commit a penalty on Angel Di Maria.
A VAR check eventually changed the decision, giving Messi a free-kick on the edge of the box. But it did not change the captain's task much, as he dispatched a glorious effort to notch Argentina's third and round off a brilliant all-round display.
Argentina 3-0 Mexico, July 11, 2007
How different might Messi's international career have turned out if he could have kept Juan Roman Riquelme by his side a little longer?
The two iconic No.10s formed a glittering partnership for the few short years between Leo's emergence and Roman's controversial retirement in 2009 amid rumours of a falling-out with coach Diego Maradona. But they were at least together long enough to give us several unforgettable games.
One of the best was Argentina's Copa America semi-final demolition of Mexico in 2007, as Messi and Riquelme both got on the scoresheet in a dominant 3-0 win.
The then-Barcelona kid netted his side's second of the evening, an outrageous chip that ranks among his very best international goals.
Argentina 2-1 Bosnia & Herzegovina, June 15, 2014
While Messi was by no means a disappointment at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, his failure to find the net even once as Argentina reached the quarters was a curious anomaly – one he was desperate to correct once the next finals came around.
In Brazil, therefore, he wasted no time in finding the net during a virtuoso display against Bosnia & Herzegovina in Argentina's very first game. "I’d had to wait eight years for my second World Cup goal. We wanted to have a great tournament and started off with a win against Bosnia, and I scored our second goal," he recalled to Four Four Two.
"It all happened very quickly. I picked the ball up near the halfway line and tried to burst towards their penalty area. I played a one-two with Gonzalo Higuain and then shot from the edge of the box. Luckily, it all came off."
Argentina 6-0 Serbia and Montenegro, June 18, 2006
Messi was still eight days short of his 19th birthday when he made his World Cup bow for Argentina, a side packed to the brim with talent under coach Jose Pekerman.
The Albiceleste were already coasting at 3-0 up when the teenager entered the action for Maxi Rodriguez 75 minutes in, but stepped up a gear to add another three before full-time against Serbia and Montenegro and cap one of their greatest ever World Cup performances.
Their new star needed just three minutes to set up Hernan Crespo, and added his own before the end to make it 6-0 with a cool right-footed finish. "It was a beautiful day due to the significance of the occasion – it was the World Cup and it was Argentina’s second match of the tournament," he later told Four Four Two.
"I was on the bench for the first game against Ivory Coast, but came on for the last 15 minutes against Serbia & Montenegro and scored our sixth goal of the game. Beautiful."
Argentina 3-2 Nigeria, June 25, 2014
While it is hard to pick a single moment from his incredible career, there is a solid argument to be made that 2014 World Cup Messi was his finest moment.
The star had already netted in victories against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran and celebrated his 27th birthday in Brazil when he turned on the magic again for Argentina's final group match.
Nigeria pushed Alejandro Sabella's men hard throughout but just had no answer for Leo, who scored two of his team's goals to send them through to the last 16 with a perfect record of three wins out of three.
- Francois Nel/Getty Images
Argentina 2-1 Australia, December 3, 2022
A landmark game for Messi was crowned with an impressive individual performance that rolled back the years in Al Rayyan. Argentina's last-16 tie against Australia in the 2022 World Cup was Messi's 1,000th game of his career, and the boy from Rosario once again shined on the world's biggest stage.
Messi broke the deadlock with an astute finish following some instinctive forward movement off the Argentina right. The strike was his first ever goal in the World Cup knockout stages, although it wasn't just broken records that made this one of Messi's best games.
The Argentina captain was a threat to the Australia defence throughout, turning defenders on a sixpence and gliding effortlessly through a seemingly impenetrable wall of yellow. At 35 years of age, Messi proved class is permanent by single-handedly dragging his team into yet another World Cup quarter-finals, in what is likely to be his last tournament.
Argentina 4-3 Brazil, June 9, 2012
In this ranking priority has been given to competitive international matches over friendlies, for obvious reasons. One of Messi's performances, though, even if it did not come on the biggest stage, cannot be overlooked.
In 2012, New York's MetLife Stadium – packed with 80,000 fans – was treated to a Messi masterclass as Argentina squeezed past Brazil in a 4-3 thriller.
The No. 10 scored three of his side's goals as they downed their arch-rivals, clinching victory with a run from near the halfway line which finished with a wicked long-range shot which gave Selecao goalkeeper Rafael Cabral no chance.
"We're lucky he's Argentine," coach Alejandro Sabella noted after the game, with no little understatement. "We can benefit from that." Quite.
- Getty Images
Brazil 0-1 Argentina, July 10, 2021
It might not have been his best match in an Argentina shirt but 2021's Copa America victory over Brazil finally ended Messi's wait for international honours, banishing the pain of multiple final defeats.
While Angel Di Maria hit the only goal of the game, once the final whistle blew the entire Albiceleste squad ran to their captain, who broke down in tears of joy and, most likely, pure relief.
Leo had enjoyed a brilliant Copa from the very first game and richly deserved the title, which brought an end to a run of four consecutive losses in tournament deciders.
- GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images
Argentina 3-0 Croatia, December 13, 2022
Messi marked his record-equalling 25th World Cup appearance in style as he inspired Argentina to a 3-0 victory over Croatia in the semi-finals of the Qatar 2022 tournament.
The 35-year-old became the first player since the beginning of the competition record books in 1966 to score and assist in the same World Cup match for the fourth time, as he fired Argentina into the lead before later producing the assist of the tournament for Julian Alvarez.
Croatia's Josko Gvardiol, one of the top-rated defensive prospects in Europe, was turned inside out on the right flank as Messi embarked on a trademark run that ended with him putting the ball on a plate for Alvarez to score his second goal of the game.
The magical moment capped a truly majestic all-round display from Messi, who managed to put himself to within a single game of cementing his standing as the great footballer in history.
Ecuador 1-3 Argentina, October 10, 2017
It appeared an impossible mission.
Argentina arrived at the last game of their lacklustre 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign needing a win to make Russia, away to Ecuador in the daunting altitude of Quito – and to top it all, the already-eliminated hosts went ahead in the first minute to leave Jorge Sampaoli's men's hopes hanging by a thread.
That is when Messi decided to make his stand.
The captain blasted an unanswered hat-trick to seal a 3-1 win for the Albiceleste in perhaps his most important performance of all at international level, if not his best outright.