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Messi vs Maradona: who was better in the World Cup?

Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona are not only two of Argentina’s greatest ever players, they are arguably the best the world has ever seen.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Fans in Souq Waqif - Doha, Qatar - December 13, 2022 Argentina fans with flags of Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona ahead of the semi final Argentina v Croatia REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

When it comes to determining who the greatest ever footballer in history was, a number of global superstar names spring to mind: Pelé, Cruyff, Eusebio, Di Stefano, Best, Ronaldo... And there is no doubt that Argentina has provided two others for that, at times, heated discussion, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.

Messi’s World Cup story continued on Tuesday, when Argentina beat Croatia 3-0, with Messi scoring a penalty and setting up Julián Álvaro to make it 3-0.

Maradona and Messi: legends of the World Cup

The reason it is called the Beautiful Game is thanks to players like Maradona, who passed away in 2020, and Messi. When on the pitch, both showed their genius. One of my favourite stories of the late, great Diego was that told by England hero Gary Lineker, reliving the disbelief he and his teammates had while watching Maradona warm up with perceived “impossible” keepie-uppies. “Everyone was in awe of him.”

The closest anyone has come to replacing him is the current Argentine star. Messi also represented Barcelona, much more so in fact, and with his skills, interplay and goalscoring nous has left just as many onlookers with their mouths agape, searching for the latest superlative. Here are his World Cup performances ahead of the 2022 edition in a graphical nutshell.

World Cup: Argentina Messi
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World Cup: Argentina MessiAS English

The question that will never be fully answered, of course, is who is the greatest between the two. They played in different eras, on very different pitches and with significantly adapted rules. But, as Qatar nears its end, we can consider the World Cup careers of both of them for Argentina.

Let’s compare their records in FIFA’s showpiece tournament to date (graphics from SofaScore) and you can decide for yourself.

World Cup: Argentina Maradona vs Messi
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World Cup: Argentina Maradona vs MessiAS English

As you can see from the graphic below, Argentina have been crowned Kings of the World on two previous occasions, in 1978 and 1986. Can a Messi-led team make that number three, and engrave his name into the fabric of the national identity?

World Cup: Argentina
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World Cup: ArgentinaAS English

Argentina are now into the final on Sunday, and Messi has the chance to lift the coveted trophy just as Maradona did back in 1986.


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