‘Catch me if you can!’ Argentina extends their unbeaten streak

Lionel Messi is always on a different form when he plays for his beloved country Argentina. He led the team against Venezuela, and Argentina put on a show for their fans in its final 2022 World Cup qualifying home match with a dominant 3-0 win over last-place Venezuela, inspired by a man-of-the-match performance from captain Lionel Messi.

Messi got the last goal for the Albiceleste, who had already earned qualification for the World Cup a few months back. Nico Gonzalez netted the breakthrough, and super-sub Angel Di Maria scored the gem of the lot with a delightful chip that whipped the La Bombonera crowd into a frenzy.

Argentina had already qualified for Qatar before Friday’s game and were on top throughout against the last-placed side in the South American qualifying group and the only one of the 10 South American sides never to reach the World Cup finals.

Argentina started the game slow until the hosts finally figured a way through. It was midfielder Rodrigo De Paul who pushed forward unmarked into space and delivered the cross that led to the opening goal by Gonzalez. The Fiorentina forward was crashing the box to meet the service in the 36th minute.

De Paul, who, along with Messi and Di Maria, was a standout for the winning team, delivered the pass for the second goal, and Di Maria did the rest. He danced around the Venezuelan defenders and chipped the goalkeeper, who was well off his line. Moments later, Di Maria combined on a give-and-go with his PSG teammate Messi to get the Argentina captain his goal and the team’s third.

Argentina, which extended its unbeaten streak to 30 matches, has two qualifying games remaining in Ecuador (Tuesday) and a makeup against Brazil (date to be determined). Venezuela are a lock to finish in last place in the standings, closing out their qualifying campaign on Tuesday against Colombia.

Asked by a reporter after the match whether he would continue to play World Cup qualifiers in the next cycle ahead of the 2026 FIFA tournament, the 34-year-old Messi hesitated.

“I don’t know. The truth is that I don’t know. I’m thinking about what’s coming next, which is Ecuador, and the preparation games we have after which are in July, and I think September, October, and then the World Cup.

“Then I don’t know,” he continued. “After the World Cup I will have to rethink many things, whether we do well or not, hopefully in the best way. But surely after the World Cup many things change.”

The two-times world champion and current Copa America winners will be joined in Qatar by Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay, while Peru, Colombia and Chile are battling for fifth place and a playoff spot against a team from the Asian confederation.