At least when it comes to goal scoring for the national team, Lionel Messi had Diego Maradona beat, although there’s no other reason to be really impressed with a hat trick in a friendly match for Argentina against Guatemala. But for those looking for every possibly line of comparison between the two, moments like these are pure gold.
For Argentina, the 4-0 win over Guatemala meant putting a rough round of matches in the World Cup qualifying behind them – drawing 0-0 at home against Colombia and barely scraping a 1-1 draw in Quito against Ecuador. Although it won’t stop them from making the tournament in Brazil, bad results never go down quietly in South America, especially in a country with such high expectations from their national team, that usually doesn’t deliver, like Argentina.
So came the 4-0 win over Guatemala, with Lionel Messi scoring three goals and adding the assist to Augusto Fernández for the fourth one. With the hat-trick, Messi has now scored 35 goals in 82 caps for the national team, making him the second highest-scorer in the history of Argentinian football, sitting behind Gabriel Batistuta with 56 goals in 78 caps, while Diego Maradona is left at third with 34 goals in 91 caps. Can Messi break the Batigoal record? If he keeps scoring at his current pace, he probably shall.
But is he a greater player now than Maradona? This is dangerous territory, and one of the more futile debates in recent years. The GOAT (greatest player of all time) is something that can’t be decided by any kind of discussion or objective measurements. While the NBA has Michael Jordan as the consensus, soccer is completely different in its approach, and there are probably more than 10 players who have good enough arguments and arguers on their side the claim the unofficial title.
While winning the World Cup used to be the greatest achievement possible for a footballer, the focus of attention and quality has shifted for the last 20 years from international football to club football, and especially the Champions League. If someone dominates there, in the toughest competition in the world, why would a World Cup change anything? Because of the past, and as long as Maradona and Pele have one, for Messi to be included in the discussion, according to some, he needs to have one as well, despite his scoring records, Spanish championships and Champions League titles.
There’s not really anything left for Lionel Messi to achieve at club-level, and he’s only 25. There wasn’t much to achieve for him two years ago, yet he went on to even strengthen his place in the sport’s history and solidifying his place as the best player right now, with another Ballon d’Or award, and more scoring titles and records. These will all be forgotten in 12 months when Argentina touch down in Brazil. The comparisons with Maradona and Messi won’t revolve around goals and ability, but only about his chances of carrying Argentina to the world cup. Once that happens, maybe there won’t be any more room for debate on who is the greatest in the history of the sport.