Argentina’s road to World Cup glory was far from easy. A shock defeat to Saudi Arabia in their opening match meant that they on the brink of elimination almost immediately, but wins over Mexico and Poland sent them through to the knockout stages.
A large part of Argentina’s success at the World Cup was Lionel Messi. The former Barcelona star scored seven goals and assisted three more during the tournament, but his leadership was perhaps his most important trait.
Messi was respected massively by the La Albiceleste squad, perhaps no more so than by Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodrigo De Paul. De Paul and Messi were often pictured together in Qatar, which led to jokes about the Atleti man being the PSG player’s “bodyguard”.
De Paul was a massive injury doubt for Argentina’s quarterfinal tie against The Netherlands due to a thigh injury, but he ended up starting anyway and played 66 minutes. The 28-year-old revealed that he told Messi about the issue, and his captain told him not to risk aggravating the injury.
“I went to Messi’s room and he tells me, ‘don’t play, we’re going to get through the quarterfinals.’ It could have been the last game that I played in a World Cup, if in four years I still don’t get called.
“He told me ‘I promise I’ll take you to the semi-finals but don’t risk that you’ll most likely be left out’. I didn’t know whether to contradict him. It’s very difficult, because he doesn’t tell me as a captain, but as a friend or older brother.”
As it turned out, De Paul started in both the semi-final against Croatia and final against France, and the Atletico Madrid midfielder now has a World Cup winner’s medal.