Lionel Messi wishes Diego Maradona had been able to hand him the World Cup trophy last month, but he has no regrets over the time it took him to lead Argentina to football's greatest prize.

Messi inspired Argentina to their fourth World Cup in Qatar last year, winning the Golden Ball award after scoring seven goals at the tournament – including two in the final against France.

The Albiceleste's triumph was their first in the competition since Maradona – who died in 2020 – produced his own series of talismanic displays to lead them to glory at Mexico 1986.

During an interview in Paris with Andy Kusnetzoff, Messi said he regretted the fact Maradona – who coached him at the 2010 World Cup – was not alive to witness his crowning moment.

"I would have liked Diego to give me the cup, or at least to see all this, to see Argentina as world champions, with everything he wanted and how he loved the national team," Messi said.

"I think from above, he – like a lot of people who love me – were strong."

While Messi had to wait until his fifth and likely final World Cup to lift the trophy, the legendary attacker says his triumph could not have come at a better time. 

"I think if I had to choose the moment, it would have been this one," Messi said. "It's at the end of my career, closing a cycle.

"I achieved everything with the national team as I always dreamed. I got everything in my career, individually. It was about closing my career in a unique way.

"I never imagined that all this was going to happen to me when I started, and getting to this moment was the best. I have no complaints and I can't ask for more.

"We won the Copa America [in 2021] and the World Cup, there's nothing left."

As well as producing several outstanding performances, Messi made headlines for taking on a more vocal role as Argentina's leader in Qatar. 

The Paris Saint-Germain star memorably celebrated a quarter-final goal against the Netherlands in front of Louis van Gaal before describing him as "disrespectful" in a post-match interview, while he also called striker Wout Weghorst a "fool" after the same game.

Messi admits he is not proud of some of his behaviour at the tournament, adding: "I knew what Van Gaal had said but it [the celebration] happened on the spur of the moment.

"I didn't like what I did, I didn't like what happened after. These are moments of nervousness and everything happens very quickly."

Diego Simeone suggested it would be difficult for any team not to be hampered by the loss of Lionel Messi, ahead of Atletico Madrid's clash with Barcelona.

LaLiga leaders Barca travel to the Spanish capital on Sunday in the headline fixture of the weekend.

Barca struggled last season under Ronald Koeman in the wake of Messi's departure to Paris Saint-Germain, though recovered under Xavi to finish second in LaLiga.

The Blaugrana are well set for a title challenge this term, with Robert Lewandowski having hit the ground running, but they have faltered in Europe, crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage for a second straight season.

Asked if Barca were a less-threatening side without Messi, Simeone told reporters: "Where Messi is will always be decisive, be it in the national team, in his current team or in Barcelona. 

"With a player of Leo's characteristics there is a better chance of winning."

Simeone compared Messi's influence on teams to that of the late Diego Maradona, who the Atletico coach played with at the 1994 World Cup.

"When I played the World Cup with Maradona, already a veteran, there was a feeling that it is difficult for us to lose, because we have the best," Simeone added.

"And if you have the best it is easier to win."

 

Simeone will be glad he no longer has to face Messi domestically, given the Barca great scored 26 goals in 30 LaLiga appearances against Atletico, who realistically need a victory on Sunday to keep any slim hopes of a title push alive.

"We face all the games and we want to see them as if it were a final," Simeone said.

"The next game in Almeria will be in the same and so on. There is no bigger game than the one you have to play [next].

"Barcelona are doing very well in the league, [have] a coach with clear ideas and they play very well."

Joao Felix's future appears up in the air, with Atleti willing to let the Portugal forward leave the club in January.

Asked if the Barca match provides a big stage for Joao Felix to impress on, Simeone elected not to focus on the individual.

"It is a good opportunity for the team," he said. "We continue to grow, improve as a team and capture what we want in the game."

Luciano Spalletti has praised Santos for not retiring Pele's number 10 shirt and hopes Napoli now do the same with Diego Maradona's famous jersey.

Santos announced on Sunday they had dropped plans to leave the number vacant following last week's death of club legend Pele, who previously said he was against the idea.

Napoli retired Maradona's number 10 in 2000, 20 years before his death, as a tribute to the Argentina great's starring role in their only two Serie A title triumphs.

But Spalletti believes making the shirt available again can inspire Napoli's current crop of players, who are on course to end the club's 33-year wait for Scudetto glory.

"I want to congratulate those who decided not to retire Pele's number 10, meeting his request," Spalletti said at a pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

"When you retire a shirt, you no longer see it. Pele's number should be shown as many times as possible. Congratulations to those who didn't retire the number 10."

Asked directly about Maradona's retired number 10 shirt, Spalletti said: "I think it's correct to wear the number of great players.

"Seeing it every day gives more responsibility to those wearing it and also to their team-mates, who would be motivated to reach that level."

Napoli return to action after the World Cup break with an eight-point lead over Milan at the top of Serie A, having dropped just four points from their opening 14 matches.

The Partenopei have won each of their past 11 Serie A matches – the last team to register a longer streak was Juventus between December 2017 and March 2018 (12 wins).

 

Spalletti's side face a tough test on Wednesday at fifth-place Inter, whom they have lost their past four league matches against at San Siro.

While a first Scudetto since the days of Maradona is in sight, Spalletti insists he is not obsessed by finishing top.

"The Scudetto is your obsession, not mine," he told reporters. "My obsession is to see this city explode in joy. 

"We have an awareness of what we have done on the pitch. We'll face a great team. We'll play our brand of football which has given benefits to the team.

"Inter are a top team. Over the last three and a half years, they've made investments worthy of a top European club."

With a new year upon us, it's only natural to look ahead at the next 12 months and the footballers who could enjoy breakthroughs at the top level.

From one player who bears a striking resemblance to Diego Maradona, to another hoping to follow in the footsteps of Erling Haaland, Stats Perform has identified eight youngsters who could be worth keeping an eye on in 2023.

Gavin Bazunu – goalkeeper, 20, Southampton

It's been a difficult introduction to the Premier League for Bazunu. The Republic of Ireland international joined from Manchester City at the end of last season for a reported £12million, highlighting just how highly rated he is in the game.

But his 30 goals conceded (excluding own goals) have come from 21.3 expected goals on target (xGOT), which suggests Bazunu has been at fault for 8.7 goals this term – that's comfortably the worst such record in the Premier League.

Can he turn his season around and bolster Southampton's survival hopes? Bazunu has potential but is struggling to live up to it at the moment.

Devyne Rensch – full-back, 19, Ajax

With Noussair Mazraoui moving on to Bayern Munich in pre-season, Rensch has been given greater exposure to first-team football, with his 12 Eredivisie starts already four more than in the 2021-22 campaign.

He's less of an obvious attacking threat than Mazraoui, but Rensch is an elegant player, as you might expect of an Ajax academy product, and quick.

Comfortable on the ball and versatile enough to play across the back four, Rensch is a very well-rounded defender with a big future.

Giorgio Scalvini – 19, centre-back, Atalanta

Scalvini broke into the Atalanta first-team picture in 2021 as a 17-year-old. Since then, he has progressed quickly and impressively, to the extent where the club are expected to cash in on him to a significant degree in 2023.

An imposing yet classy central defender, Scalvini is very much the archetypal modern centre-back in terms of how he operates, with his 22.9 forward passes per 90 minutes this season among the very best in his role in Serie A.

Also comfortable playing in midfield, Scalvini likes to defend on the front foot as highlighted by his 2.7 tackles per 90 minutes ranking highly among centre-backs as well.

Atalanta are reportedly expecting to fetch at least €40m for him over the next year, with Inter, Juventus, Tottenham and Manchester City all said to be admirers.

Kobbie Mainoo – 17, central midfielder, Manchester United

Mainoo looks to be one of the most talented players United have produced in a while. The teenager has caused a stir with his performances in the club's youth teams over the past few years, and that has recently led to an internal promotion.

A silky central midfielder, Mainoo was a key part of the United side that won the FA Youth Cup last season.

Given his technical ability, comparisons with Paul Pogba are to be expected, though the early signs suggest Mainoo may be able to offer the deep-lying playmaking qualities the Frenchman lacked.

He signed his first professional contract in May, was named on the bench for the second time this season in the Premier League during Saturday's win at Wolves, and featured prominently for United in the World Cup break after being promoted to the senior squad.

If there's any teenager in line to follow Alejandro Garnacho in establishing himself at Old Trafford, it's Mainoo.

Andreas Schjelderup – 18, left-winger, Nordsjaelland

Martin Odegaard, Haaland... could Schjelderup be Norway's latest superstar? The early signs are extremely positive.

The 18-year-old is still waiting for his first senior cap, but he's really making a name for himself in the Danish Superliga, with his dazzling dribbling abilities and eye for a goal causing defences no end of issues.

Schjelderup's 74 dribble attempts are the second-most in the league this season, while no one has bettered his 10 goals, with the teenager very effective coming in off the left flank on to his right foot.

Benfica are reportedly one of the clubs keen on him. Wherever he ends up, 2023 looks likely to be a breakthrough year for the youngster.

Carlos Alvarez – 19, attacking midfielder, Sevilla

It takes just a few seconds to realise why Alvarez is compared to Maradona. The stature, his tucked-in jersey, the hair – then he gets on the ball and the realisation hits home even more.

Left-footed, blessed with exceptional dribbling abilities and a remarkably low centre of gravity, Alvarez looks to be the most naturally gifted player to come through Sevilla's academy since Jose Antonio Reyes, and probably beyond.

But the club have been very protective over him and his development, so much so that his 75 minutes against Juventud Torremolinos in the Copa del Rey last week were his first for the senior side.

He made his debut for their B team just a couple of weeks after his 16th birthday in August 2019, and finally it would appear his senior breakthrough has arrived, with Isco's departure certainly not hurting his cause.

Alberto Moleiro – 19, attacking midfielder, Las Palmas

A gifted young midfielder who plays for Las Palmas – the 'new Pedri' tag is almost too obvious. Moleiro tends to operate in a more advanced role, though he is clearly similarly blessed.

Skilful and a talented dribbler, Moleiro is in his second season in Las Palmas' senior side and playing a key role in their promotion push.

He's yet to score a league goal this term, but Moleiro's creativity and bravery on the ball are real assets, with only two players in the Segunda bettering his 29 chances created in open play and just three tallying more than his 70 dribble attempts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Barcelona are said to be keeping tabs on him – but even if he doesn't earn a move away from the Canary Islands, it would appear there's a strong possibility he'll be in LaLiga anyway before the end of 2023 with Las Palmas top of the second tier.

Karim Konate – 18, striker, Salzburg

Salzburg's conveyor belt of striker talent has been impressive in recent years. First there was Haaland, then Karim Adeyemi, and Benjamin Sesko has already secured a big-money move to RB Leipzig for the end of the season.

Konate will hope to be the next.

Like Adeyemi and Sesko before him, Konate – a well-rounded forward who is excellent in the air – has been honing his skills at Salzburg's sister club Liefering in Austria's second tier this season, scoring 10 times in 14 league games.

He's also been featuring for Salzburg's Under-19s in the UEFA Youth League, with his five goals in six games bettered by only five players.

Konate probably won't get his chance in the senior side until next season, but with Salzburg Champions League regulars these days, he will be one to look out for.

There is perhaps no sporting debate that captures the imagination like that concerning the identity of football's greatest ever player.

The incredible goalscoring feats of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo put them at the centre of the discussion, but what about the greats of yesteryear? 

Does the cunning of Diego Maradona or the ingenuity of Johan Cruyff make one of them the best to have played the world's most popular sport?

The ultimate reference for all those iconic players, however, is Pele. The only player to have won three World Cups, the ultimate personification of "o jogo bonito".

With tributes flooding in after the Brazil icon passed away at the age of 82, Stats Perform delves into the Selecao star's incredible career, asking how it compares to those of the game's other greats.

Pele: The World Cup's finest

While any debate over the greatest player of all time will always be subjective, nobody can deny Pele his status as the ultimate World Cup legend.

His introduction to the global stage came at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, where Brazil exercised the demons of 1950 – when they lost the final on home soil to Uruguay in what became known as the "Maracanazo" – to clinch their first title.

A 17-year-old Pele missed Brazil's first two games at the tournament, but the Santos youngster quickly made the Selecao's number 10 shirt his own after coming in for a 2-0 win over the Soviet Union.

From there, he went from strength to strength, scoring his first World Cup goal against Wales before helping himself to a hat-trick against France in the semi-finals.

As Brazil overcame the hosts 5-2 in a thrilling final, Pele – at the age of 17 years and 249 days – scored twice. Only one other teenager has ever netted in a World Cup final – Kylian Mbappe in 2018.

 

As if one outstanding World Cup campaign was not enough, Pele was key to further Selecao triumphs in 1962 and 1970 – assuming a talismanic role in what many consider to be the greatest international team in history at the latter tournament.

Pele's tally of six assists in Mexico remains the highest tally recorded at a single World Cup since records began four years earlier, and his nonchalant lay-off for Carlos Alberto to finish off a flowing team move in Brazil's final win over Italy remains one of the most iconic moments in the tournament's history.

While modern-day detractors may point to Pele's failure to test himself in Europe, his incredible record on the grandest stage of all dictates that he is remembered among the very best, and there can be no doubt as to his unmatched World Cup legacy.

Johan Cruyff: The innovator

If Pele's legacy can be measured in World Cup accomplishments, Cruyff's must be examined in a very different way.

Cruyff's unbelievable tally of 36 chances created at the 1974 World Cup may be a single-tournament record, but it was not enough for the Netherlands to avoid the first of their three final defeats at the competition.

Eight Eredivisie titles, three European Cups and one LaLiga triumph as a player does not exactly do justice to the career of football's great innovator, the man considered responsible for "total football" and by extension, every free-flowing Barcelona or Ajax team that has followed.

If Pele's is best remembered as the World Cup's greatest player, perhaps Cruyff deserves the title of football's finest pioneer.

Diego Maradona: The individualist 

No conversation about football's greatest could be complete without a mention of Maradona, the man who almost single-handedly carried Argentina to football's greatest prize with a perfect blend of skill and cunning.

Astonishingly, Maradona claimed five goals and five assists as Argentina won the 1986 World Cup – a feat no other player has accomplished since detailed data collection began in 1966.

Maradona's quarter-final brace against England, perhaps the most iconic double in history, encapsulated his on-pitch personality perfectly – a mischievous first goal being followed by a truly remarkable second.

Maradona's tendency to carry unfancied sides to success was replicated on the club stage, with his two Serie A triumphs with Napoli earning him a level of adulation that will perhaps never be matched.

A beaten finalist in 1990, not even El Diego could match Pele's World Cup exploits, but the Argentine carved out a reputation as football's finest individualist. 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo: The big-game player

Like Cruyff, neither of the final two players on our list have made their greatest impact at the World Cup, but the incredible goalscoring feats of Ronaldo ensure his place among the game's legends.

In the Champions League – arguably the true pinnacle of the modern game – no player can match Ronaldo's total of 140 goals.

Ronaldo – who scored his 700th goal in club football earlier this season – has also lifted the Champions League trophy on five occasions – a tally no other player has bettered.

The 37-year-old started off the 2022 World Cup by becoming the first male player to net in five different editions of the tournament, though he ultimately ended it in disappointment, making just 10 touches after coming on as a substitute in Portugal's quarter-final defeat to Morocco.

He has been the ultimate big-game player. Whether he is anymore is clearly up for debate. 

Lionel Messi: The Magician 

While some may prefer the efficiency and athleticism of Ronaldo, there is no sight in modern football as joyous as that of Messi slaloming through panicked defences.

Seven Ballon d'Or wins tells you all you need to know, Messi's army of fans may say, while Pep Guardiola's revolutionary Barcelona side – considered by many as the best team to ever take to the field – was built to accommodate the Argentine's incredible mix of elite finishing, dribbling and passing skills. 

 

Until the last two years, the only major blot on Messi's career was a perceived failure to replicate the feats of Maradona, with the expectations of the Argentinian public often seeming to weigh heavily upon the shoulders of the diminutive attacker.

However, having helped the Albiceleste end a 28-year wait to win the Copa America in 2021, Messi then contributed seven goals and three assists to mirror Maradona's achievement of leading Argentina to World Cup glory, with the Paris Saint-Germain forward's campaign in Qatar already regarded as one of the greatest in the tournament's rich history.

While the sight of Messi lifting the World Cup trophy at the Lusail Stadium caused some to declare any debate regarding football's greatest player to be over, the forward's age dictates he will not get the chance to equal Pele's feats on the game's grandest stage.

Everyone has a different opinion on what makes a player the greatest in history, be it their style, their goal record, or their impact on subsequent generations.

The role of football's greatest tournament will always be pivotal, however, and on that basis, Pele will always have a place among the legends of the game.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is enjoying life at Napoli amid reports linking him with a move to the Premier League, recalling how he was desperate to sign for the Partenopei ahead of this campaign.

Kvaratskhelia has been a revelation since joining Luciano Spalletti's side from Dinamo Batumi in July, scoring six goals and adding five assists in Serie A this season.

With Napoli eight points clear at the summit ahead of Serie A's resumption next month, no player in the Italian top flight has bettered the Georgia winger's total of 11 goal contributions.

While the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham have previously been touted as possible future destinations for Kvaratskhelia, recent reports have suggested Newcastle United have made him their top target for the January transfer window.

However, the 21-year-old cited life in Naples and his enjoyment of Spalletti's style of play as being key to his happiness while recalling his decision to join the club.

"The negotiations with Napoli lasted a long time, about two years, I was very happy that such a great team was interested in me," he told DAZN. "I couldn't wait to wear the Napoli shirt. 

"I felt every now and then that there was interest from other teams as well, but having the offer from Napoli, I never thought about anything else. I wanted to play for Napoli.

"When I happened to watch their matches, I thought I could adapt perfectly to that type of game. I really liked how they played and it happened. 

"Here, the city lives for the love of football, everyone knows football in Naples. It is motivating when the whole city cheers for you and transmits love to you in every moment." 

 

Asked whether he had surprised himself by emerging as one of Europe's most dangerous attackers, Kvaratskhelia added: "I'm still a long way from this definition, but I'll do my best to confirm it. 

"In any case, no, I didn't expect it. It's very difficult to think that from such a small country you can get to play in such a big team. 

"It was my dream to play in a renowned top club like Napoli. However, I still have a long way to go and many goals to achieve."

Kvaratskhelia leads his Napoli team-mates for dribbles completed (19) and carries ending with a chance created (12) in Serie A this term, leading supporters to dub him 'Kvaradona' in reference to club legend Diego Maradona.  

The Georgian failed to hide his glee when asked about that nickname, saying: "When just a small part of the Maradona name is associated with yours, it's an honour.

"It creates an emotion different from the other [nicknames] – it fills me with pride. Today 'Kvaradona' is definitely my favourite."

Pep Guardiola believes Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the greatest player of all time, describing arguments in favour of Pele or Diego Maradona as "sentimental".

Messi has long been considered among the best ever, but both he and Cristiano Ronaldo trailed Pele and Maradona in the eyes of some while neither had won the World Cup.

That changed on Sunday, when Messi led Argentina to glory at Qatar 2022, matching Maradona's achievement from 1986.

However, in the eyes of Manchester City manager Guardiola, who coached Messi at Barcelona, there was never any doubt.

"Everyone has their opinion, but nobody can doubt he's there with the greatest of all time," Guardiola said. "For me, I've said many times: he's the best.

"It's difficult to understand how a player can complete what he's done in the past 50 or 70 years.

"The people who saw Pele or [Alfredo] Di Stefano or Maradona, the people can say 'my favourite', but these opinions are sentimental.

"On the other side, if he wouldn't have won the World Cup, the opinion about what he has done for the whole of football and my opinion of how he is as a player wouldn't change absolutely anything.

"But it's normal that it depends if you win [how] you are evaluated. Of course, for him, it's the final cherries on his incredible career."

Messi was joined in the Argentina side by City striker Julian Alvarez and Nicolas Otamendi, who spent five years at the Etihad Stadium between 2015 and 2020.

"We are incredibly happy for him [Alvarez] – congratulations," Guardiola added. "For him, for Nico Otamendi, personally for Messi, for Argentina the country, for a well-deserved champion.

"For Julian, he is with us, and we are delighted. He played a lot, and his contribution was amazing to the team for the way we played. We have a world champion in our team."

Guardiola confirmed Alvarez would now enjoy "a break", but City's other World Cup stars have started to return ahead of Thursday's EFL Cup fourth-round tie against holders Liverpool.

"The players that were at the World Cup are in a better condition than the players who were here, that's for sure," Guardiola explained.

"Sergio [Gomez], Erling [Haaland], Riyad [Mahrez], Cole [Palmer]... the rhythm they miss a little bit compared, for example, to Manu Akanji and Rodri and Aymeric [Laporte] and Nathan [Ake].

"They came back and we saw them so good, perfectly. That's normal. They compete, they train every day, while we had holidays."

Lionel Messi believes Diego Maradona "encouraged us from heaven" as Argentina beat France in Sunday's World Cup final.

La Albiceleste ended a 36-year wait to win their third World Cup with a penalty shoot-out victory over the reigning champions at Lusail Stadium.

The teams drew 3-3 after extra time, with a Messi double and Angel Di Maria strike cancelled out by a Kylian Mbappe hat-trick as a gripping tie went all the way to spot-kicks.

However, Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni failed to convert their penalties as Argentina won the shoot-out 4-2 to earn Messi his first World Cup in dramatic fashion.

The win was especially emotional with the World Cup in Qatar the first since Maradona, who famously led Argentina to glory at the 1986 World Cup, passed away in November 2020.

After losing the 2014 World Cup final to Germany because of a 113th-minute Mario Gotze winner, Messi was glad the same fate did not befall Argentina against France.

Messi released a message on Instagram, saying: "I always dreamed of being a world champion and I didn't want to stop trying, even knowing that maybe I would never give up.

"This cup we got is also from all those who did not make it in the previous World Cups we played, like in 2014 in Brazil, where they all deserved it for how they fought until the same final, worked hard and wanted it as much as I did.

"It's also from Diego who encouraged us from heaven.

"And of all those who spent the time always supporting the national team without looking so much at the result but the desire we always put into it, also when things didn't go as we wanted.

"Many times failure is part of the journey and learning and without the disappointments it is impossible for success to come.

"Thank you very much from my heart! Let's go Argentina!!!"

Messi's latest Instagram message came after his photo holding the World Cup trophy became the most popular post in the social media platform's history, amassing 65 million likes.

He followed that up by uploading a picture on Tuesday of him in bed holding the famous trophy, which was liked over 40 million times in the nine hours after it was posted.

After the country's government declared Tuesday a national holiday, Messi and his team-mates landed back in Argentina and were greeted by mass crowds of adoring fans.

Pele is the greatest of all time for Peter Reid, though the former England midfielder knows there is not much to choose between the Brazil legend, Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi.

Argentina's World Cup success in Qatar has surely cemented Messi's place as the greatest player of his generation, though whether the 35-year-old will go down as the best of ever is open for debate.

Messi has now matched his late compatriot Maradona in dragging Argentina to World Cup glory, with the late, great former captain lifting the trophy at Mexico 1986.

Reid played for England against Argentina in the famous 'Hand of God' game in that tournament and was left in Maradona's wake for the mercurial number 10's second goal of the match, which has been immortalised as 'The Goal of the Century'.

Reid, though, quipped Pele – a winner of three World Cups – was his pick.

"Erm, Pele," Reid joked when asked by Stats Perform who was the best out of Messi and Maradona. "They're all icons of the game."

 

Reid is pleased to see Messi finally get his hands on the only trophy that had been missing from his collection.

"Yeah, I think he's been an absolutely outstanding footballer and it was the one major trophy that he hadn't won, and I think he's a credit to himself on the park and off the park," he said.

He added of the tournament: "I thought there was some great games, I thought the best team won it and I still don't know the penalty rule. I haven't got a clue what a penalty is these days, but I did enjoy it, I've got to say."

It was a similar story for Liverpool great Ian Rush, who enjoyed his experience in Qatar supporting Wales.

"I was out there and from a Welsh point of view it was a privilege to be there, 1958 was last time we qualified so no matter where the World Cup was going to be, I was going to be there because it's the first time I have gotten the chance to see Wales playing at the World Cup," Rush told Stats Perform.

"But I enjoyed it and I really enjoyed the World Cup out there. The people were very friendly. It's the icing on the cake for Messi to get his hands on the World Cup."

Lionel Messi's World Cup triumph is not enough for him to surpass Diego Maradona as Argentina's greatest player, according to Javier Zanetti.

Messi finally got his hands on the World Cup on Sunday after a thrilling final against France was settled on penalties at Lusail Stadium.

The 35-year-old scored twice in a thrilling 3-3 draw, before converting his penalty in the shoot-out, which Argentina won 4-2.

It was Argentina's third World Cup and especially poignant considering this was the first edition since Maradona, who famously led his nation to glory at the 1986 tournament, died in November 2020.

While Messi's performances in Qatar have cemented his place as the best player in history in the eyes of many, Zanetti feels he is still yet to outdo Maradona as Argentina's greatest of all time.

Zanetti told Stats Perform: "No, not for me. I don't like [the] comparison.

"We have to be grateful that the two greatest [players] in history are Argentines.

"I don't think [Messi] has changed. I think he is more mature now and he was able to transmit his leadership to the rest of the group this time."

Argentina were pegged back twice by France, first surrendering a 2-0 lead as Kylian Mbappe struck twice before levelling again in extra time after Messi had put Lionel Scaloni's men back in front.

Argentina's 36-year wait to lift international football's top prize again is the longest gap between a nation winning World Cup titles, and Zanetti believes the dramatic nature of their success made the victory even sweeter.

"It's a great emotion that the lads gave us because we have been waiting for it for a long time," Zanetti added. 

"I think they made it happen, the dream of millions of Argentinian fans around the world.

"It was a great final for us Argentines because it seemed it was all going in our way but then France had a great reaction."

Andres Iniesta, Messi's former team-mate at Barcelona, was delighted the now Paris Saint-Germain forward finally got to lift the World Cup.

"Yesterday's final was something spectacular, and that he [Messi] had the opportunity now to lift the World Cup is inexplicable," Iniesta told reporters while visiting Barcelona's training ground.

"Leo has done everything possible to achieve it. He has had a spectacular World Cup and the icing on the cake was incredible.

"I'm sure he feels maximum happiness."

Leading documentary director Asif Kapadia wants to bring a Lionel Messi movie to life.

Messi won the World Cup with Argentina on Sunday, with La Albiceleste triumphing 4-2 over France on penalties following a thrilling 3-3 draw at Lusail Stadium in Qatar.

The World Cup was the final trophy missing from Messi's vast collection, and now the 35-year-old has surely ended the debate as to who is the greatest player of his generation.

Messi scored seven goals and contributed three assists across his sensational campaign in Qatar, and there are sure to be no shortage of offers for his story to be taken to the silver screen.

But Kapadia perhaps has the edge, given his critically acclaimed previous documentaries - Senna, about the life and death of the Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, Amy (a film focusing on Amy Winehouse's rise to fame) and Diego Maradona.

The latter, released in 2019, told the story of Argentina's previous magical number 10, a player Messi has now matched in winning the World Cup, as Maradona did in 1986. 

"Pardon me, but I feel I should put this out there," tweeted Kapadia on Monday.

"Dear #LionelMessi, I know you're probably busy and need a holiday, but If you're interested in having your epic story told at some point, I'm definitely interested & available!"

Lionel Messi emerged from the shadow of his fellow Argentinian 'phenomenon' Diego Maradona by leading his country to World Cup glory, says 1994 runner-up Arrigo Sacchi.

Messi clinched the World Cup Golden Ball after producing a series of talismanic displays in Qatar, scoring seven goals and adding three assists during a dream campaign.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner scored twice in Sunday's thrilling final against France, also converting in the subsequent penalty shoot-out as he became the first Albiceleste captain to lift the trophy since Maradona in 1986.

Sacchi, whose great Milan side battled with Maradona's Napoli in the 1980s, refused to compare the two Argentina greats but was delighted to see Messi replicate his compatriot's success.

"When Messi raised the World Cup to the sky, his eyes were wet with tears," Sacchi, who led Italy to the 1994 final, wrote in La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I thought of Leo's entire journey, of what he won with Barcelona, of his dribbling, of his goals, of his acrobatics, of the many Ballon d'Ors he placed on the bulletin board. 

"Then, however, there was that sort of curse which he could not shrug off. Too often he was forced to play with the shadow of Maradona weighing on his shoulders.

"Too often they asked him what he could not give, and then he felt sad. He felt the responsibility to give happiness to an entire people and the fact of not succeeding in it pained him. 

"Now all of Argentina is at his feet. I don't feel like saying whether or not he has reached Maradona's level.

"I don't agree with these comparisons between champions who belong to different eras of football. 

"What I know is that Maradona was a phenomenon, and I knew him well, and I know that Messi is too, albeit in a different way."

Lionel Scaloni was left saddened by a sudden realisation late Argentina great Diego Maradona was unable to enjoy their World Cup success in Qatar.

Scaloni's side beat France 4-2 on penalties following a remarkable 3-3 draw after extra time at Lusail Stadium on Sunday.

It was Argentina's first World Cup triumph since Maradona inspired them to glory in 1986, earning Lionel Messi his maiden success in the competition.

Maradona, who played for his national team between 1977 and 1994, died in November 2020 at the age of 60 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

His death was followed by three days of national mourning, putting into context just how significant a figure he was in Argentina.

And for Scaloni on Sunday, being reminded of Maradona's passing was difficult.

Asked what he would say to Maradona if he had been present, Scaloni told reporters: "Well, you make me realise that he's not here, otherwise you'd think he was amongst us.

"Well fortunately we managed to lift this trophy, something we've been dreaming of for so long, we're such a football passionate country.

"I hope he enjoyed it from above. I'm sure if he was here he'd have enjoyed it so much, he'd have been the first one on the pitch.

"Now you ask me this you make me realise he's not here. I wish he was here to enjoy this moment."

Brazil great Pele sent congratulations to Argentina after their breathtaking World Cup final victory, describing Lionel Messi's success as the moment "his trajectory deserved".

Pele, confined to hospital recently, has been attentive to events at Qatar 2022 and said Argentina's trophy win would have delighted the late Diego Maradona.

The big moment for 35-year-old Messi means he finally has a World Cup victory to his name, matching compatriot Maradona who was the driving force behind Argentina's Mexico 86 triumph. Maradona died in November 2020 at the age of 60.

"Congratulations Argentina! Certainly Diego is smiling now," Pele wrote on Instagram.

There was sympathy from 82-year-old Pele for Kylian Mbappe, who finished on the losing side despite scoring two penalties and a stunning volley to complete only the second hat-trick in a men's World Cup final, after Geoff Hurst's 1966 treble for England against West Germany.

Argentina lifted the trophy after a 3-3 draw on Sunday, winning the penalty shoot-out 4-2 after misses from Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni.

Messi scored twice in a classic match before both he and Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Mbappe converted penalties at the beginning of the shoot-out.

The Golden Ball, for the tournament's best player, went to Messi for a second time, while Mbappe finished as top scorer with eight goals, earning the Golden Boot.

Three-time World Cup winner Pele hailed Mbappe's feat of hitting the back of the net four times, including the shoot-out, and he also offered praise to Morocco, who finished fourth after becoming Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists.

"Today, football continues to tell its story, as always, in an enthralling way," Pele said. "Messi winning his first World Cup, as his trajectory deserved.

"My dear friend, Mbappe, scoring four goals in a final. What a gift it was to watch this spectacle to the future of our sport.

"And I couldn't fail to congratulate Morocco for the incredible campaign. It's great to see Africa shine."

Diego Maradona Junior wept tears of joy as Argentina laid their hands on the World Cup for the first time since his father led the Albiceleste to Mexico 86 glory.

Two years have passed since superstar Maradona's death at the age of 60, after a tumultuous life that was defined by his World Cup achievements.

Now Lionel Messi has followed Maradona into the history books as the captain, number 10 and driving force of a team that has conquered the world.

Maradona Junior posted on Instagram a video of himself sobbing, while saying: "We're champions."

He added in a post: "The cup is going to Buenos Aires."

Argentina landed the trophy in Qatar on Sunday by beating France 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out after a sensational 3-3 draw that featured a hat-trick from Kylian Mbappe and two goals from Messi.

Maradona's Instagram account, now administered by his children, showed a merged picture of Daniel Passarella, Maradona and Messi – captains of the country's 1978, 1986 and 2022 winning teams – each holding the World Cup trophy.

"ARGENTINA WORLD CHAMPION!!!" its caption exclaimed.

"I imagine your pride, old man.. Thanks for a new joy."

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