It always felt as if it was meant to be.
Fans worldwide witnessed the crowning moment of an incredible career when Lionel Messi finally lifted the World Cup trophy after Argentina's penalty shootout win over France. And it’s not as if he was carried to glory by his teammates either, as there is a real case to be made that Messi was the best player in the tournament.
Let’s look back at every one of Messi's performances in Qatar through the lens of the PFF data collected over the tournament.
Match 1: Argentina vs. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia took down Argentina with one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history, but that didn’t stop Messi from starting the campaign with an impressive performance. He scored from the penalty spot, and while he didn’t record an assist, he did create six chances, a personal best for the tournament.
Match 2: Argentina vs. Mexico
Messi found himself among the goalscorers again against Mexico, finding the back of the net with a masterful shot from outside the box. As was the case so often in this tournament, though, the goal only tells part of the story. He created a chance — which turned into an assist — and completed 39 of the 44 passes he attempted, including eight of his nine line-breaking pass attempts. He was also on the receiving end of four line-breaking passes, completed three dribbles and won five fouls.
Match 3: Argentina vs. Poland
The Argentina skipper didn’t have an assist or score in this game, and he missed his best opportunity to land on the scoresheet by failing to score from the penalty spot, but once again he made a big impact in this game.
He was on the receiving end of 13 line-breaking passes, his second-best mark of the tournament, and he completed 13 of the 15 line-breaking passes he attempted, including one that broke the defensive line. He created four chances despite not registering an assist, completed six of the nine dribbles he attempted and won five fouls.
Round of the Last 16: Argentina vs. Australia
Messi was back among the goals in the first game of the knockout stages, opening the scoring 35 minutes into the match against Australia. Once again, he created four chances — a total he reached or bettered in all but two games at the tournament — and completed seven line-breaking passes.
On the ball, he completed four of the six dribbles he attempted and won a foul. He was also on the receiving end of 12 line-breaking passes, and even though it was arguably his quietest game of the tournament, he still made a lot of noise.
Quarterfinal: Argentina vs. Netherlands
The business end of the tournament was going to require Messi to shine brightest if it was indeed to be his tournament, and shine bright he did in a feisty encounter with the Netherlands.
He scored a goal, and his assist was one of four chances he created in the match. He attempted only three dribbles but successfully completed all three of them, and he won eight fouls, the most he won in any game at the tournament.
Semifinal: Argentina vs. Croatia
In the semifinal, Croatia held Messi to a tournament-low two line-breaking pass completions and just two chances created, his second-lowest mark of the tournament. It didn’t matter.
He produced the assist for Julian Álvarez’s second goal to put Argentina up 3-0, and Messi himself opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half. He was a menace on the ball, completing seven of the eight dribbles he attempted and winning three fouls.
Final: Argentina vs. France
Kylian Mbappé and France tried to spoil the party, but Messi and Argentina refused to be denied in the World Cup final.
Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot and scored the goal that looked set to hand them the trophy in extra time, but again that only tells part of the story.
He created four chances and completed 91.2% of the passes he attempted, a tournament high for him. He completed six of the 10 line-breaking passes he attempted, which included three breaking the defensive line, another tournament-high for Messi.
The PFF Grades
Metrics are one thing, but PFF also grades players for what they do on the pitch, adding additional context such as the degree of difficulty for shots, accuracy and progressiveness of passes and more.
Messi once again stood out here, recording an 83.2 shooting grade (13th among all players who attempted at least five shots at the tournament), a 95.0 dribbling grade (first) and a 90.4 passing grade (fifth).
It really was his tournament.