Lionel Messi has already felt the most different emotions at Maracanã. It was at the stadium that he suffered what was perhaps the most painful defeat of his career, in the 2014 World Cup final, against Germany.
But it was also there that he won the 2021 Copa América, the star’s first trophy for Argentina, in an achievement considered as the genesis of the team that would win the World Cup in Qatar, a year later.
At 36 years old, the star returns to the stadium this Tuesday (21) for what should be his last appearance on Brazilian soil, at 9:30 pm, in a clash for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers — TV Globo and Sportv show the duel.
Faced with a Brazil in crisis, accumulating negative marks since being eliminated in the World Cup won by the Argentines, Messi will have the chance to seek his definitive coronation, with the recognition of the local fans for an opposing star, who is capable of winning fans over the rivalry between the countries.
“You can’t help but worry about a player of his size. And we have to play. Don’t run away from his characteristics and at the same time try to contain all the creative capacity he has,” said coach Fernando Diniz.
The stands will be full, with around 69 thousand fans. Each of the batches of tickets put on sale by the CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation) was sold out within a few hours.
The high demand does not match the current performance of the Brazilian team, only fifth in the Qualifiers, coming from two consecutive defeats — something hitherto unprecedented for the team —, not to mention the absence of names like Neymar and Vinicius Junior, both injured.
With four defeats in eight games in 2023, the Canarian team lost 50% of its matches, a performance that the team has not recorded since 1948. Even in the event of a victory over the Argentines, the percentage at the end of the year will be 44.44%, The team’s worst record since 1963, when the Brazilians lost eight of the 18 games they played that year.
If Brazil is not going through a moment capable of attracting its fans, there is Messi on the field, as an attraction in itself, even as an opponent, but in a different condition than the other times he came here, now without the weight he carried due to his absence. of titles with his national team, just enjoying the pleasure of playing football.
His recent transfer to football in the United States has also demanded less from the star, as the intensity of MLS is lower compared to European championships, which reduces physical wear and tear and the risk of injury.
Even so, the future of the number 10, especially in the national team, is still unknown. The title in Qatar made him renew his desire to represent his country. But, besides this probably being his last World Cup cycle, it is still not possible to say that he will play in the 2026 World Cup, when he is 39 years old.
“I don’t think about that because it’s too far away. What I’m thinking about is getting to the Copa América well [de 2024, nos EUA]”, he said recently in an interview with the Argentine YouTube channel Olga. That’s why this Tuesday’s clash is treated as a possible farewell.
It will be his 14th game against the Canarinho team, being his eighth in official games, in which the star has never managed to leave his mark. The five goals he scored against Brazil were in friendly matches, three of which came in Argentina’s 4-3 victory in 2012.
On Brazilian soil, the star also has a modest record. In total, between World Cup, Copa América, Qualifiers and friendlies, he played 22 games in the country and found the net just seven times.
Despite the bad moment experienced by the team led by Fernando Diniz, the number 10 himself states that it will not be easy to improve these numbers.
“The matches against Brazil are classics. They are games in their own right, with a lot of history. Especially given how this story has been going in recent times. We have to stand up, but respecting who they are, because they are Brazil”, he told the newspaper Olé .
Respect is not demagoguery. In addition to having many Brazilian friends, such as Neymar and Ronaldinho Gaúcho, with whom he also shared the Barcelona dressing room, Messi has already shown respect for Brazil on other occasions.
During the celebration of the 2021 Copa América title, still on the Maracanã lawn, a scene became famous of him instructing his teammates not to sing a song that provoked Brazilians and Pelé, for example.
Moments like this helped reinforce the idolatry that the star has here, built, of course, on the foundations of everything he did in football and which, at least on Brazilian soil, should now only remain in memory.