With two major international tournaments this summer, how players performed with their national teams was always going to be a major factor in the Ballon d’Or. So far at Euro 2020, many of the favourites are out heading into the semi-finals. However, at the Copa America, a very familiar face is leading the charge: Lionel Messi.
While Brazil continue to be the favourites, Messi has Argentina in a very promising position as we get into the semi-finals. And with several of the most favoured Ballon d’Or candidates faltering on the international stage, the 34-year-old looks in pole position to claim the award for the seventh time.
Lionel Messi is Positioning Himself as the Ballon d’Or Favorite
Unstoppable Start to Copa America for Messi
In his five games so far in the tournament, Messi has registered four goals and four assists, both double what anyone else has been able to reach at this stage. Argentina have scored ten goals so far, and the No. 10 has been directly involved in eight of them and has a pre-assist for one more.
His performance in the quarter-finals against Ecuador would be a career game for most footballers, but for Messi, it was just an ordinary Saturday night. He notched two assists, including the most eye-of-the-needle pass we’ll see this year, and scored yet another beautiful free-kick.
The way he placed the ball on the ground to set himself up for the dead ball situation is very indicative of Messi himself: patient, precise, deadly.
After Argentina have fallen at the final hurdle so many times in recent years, the Barcelona man is putting an entire nation on his back to try and finally get that elusive international trophy.
Argentina face Colombia in the semis on Tuesday, and if they win they’d face either Brazil or Peru, with the overwhelming odds going to Brazil in the other semi-final. It’s all set up for the grandstand Argentina v Brazil, Messi v Neymar final every neutral wants, but the game isn’t played on paper, and South American football is certainly capable of many surprises.
Messi is desperate to finally tick that box on his resume and win a trophy with his country, and if he continues his extraordinary form, you definitely wouldn’t bet against him.
Reviewing the Other Ballon d’Or Candidates
Heading into the summer, there was no clear favourite to lift the Ballon d’Or. No club won the treble, which means no player had all but locked up the prestigious award before the international tournaments.
Robert Lewandowski had a record year in Germany, breaking the Bundesliga’s record for goals in a season, but missed both legs of Bayern Munich‘s Champions League elimination at the hands of Manchester City.
City themselves, led by superstar midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and defensive stalwart Ruben Dias, looked on course to not only win the treble but the quadruple. However, two losses to Chelsea, in the FA Cup semi-finals and, crucially, in the Champions League final, put a dent in an otherwise dominant season, winning the league and cup double.
The Champions League winners were able to call upon absolutely world-class performances from the always-underappreciated N’Golo Kante, putting him firmly in the race.
Rounding out the list of favourites is, of course, Messi who in such a tumultuous time for Barcelona, put up ridiculous numbers to singlehandedly will his club back into the title race having been 13 points behind in December.
Barca ultimately disappointingly finished third but did win the Copa Del Rey, with Messi putting in yet another world-class showing in the final against Athletic Bilbao. The Argentine has 28 goals and nine assists in 29 matches in 2021; one goal less than Lewandowski, but five assists more. His 37 goal contributions this calendar year are the most in Europe’s top five leagues.
As Lionel Messi Shines, Rivals Slip at the Euros
In the Euros, many of Messi’s challengers have been underwhelming.
Kante, for the level he was playing at for Chelsea just weeks earlier, had a very quiet tournament as France were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Switzerland in a shocking upset.
Also in that team was Kylian Mbappe, another Ballon d’Or candidate after his impressive Champions League knockout performances, who coincidentally missed the penalty that gave Switzerland the win, massively hurting his chances.
De Bruyne had a stroke of misfortune this summer, severely limiting his abilities at the tournament. He was already injured coming in after his collision with Antonio Rudiger in the Champions League final, which forced him to be on the bench for the first two matches.
Returning to the starting line-up, De Bruyne helped his team beat Finland, then squeaked past Portugal in the Round of 16, but he tore ligaments in his ankle in that match. Despite the advice of team doctors, he played against Italy anyway but was obviously severely limited as his side bowed out of the competition.
Nothing much was expected of Poland and Lewandowski this summer, but they failed to even make it out of the group stages, losing to Sweden in a do-or-die final match despite their talisman’s best efforts, who scored two that game, including a brilliant curler. Lewandowski, although he scored three goals, missed a number of good chances as well and the Euros have certainly not helped his Ballon d’Or hopes.
Portugal were also massively disappointing, significantly denting Dias’s chances as well, as he failed to even come close to replicating his Manchester City form. Cristiano Ronaldo is currently the Euros’ top scorer with five, but three penalties and two tap-ins, combined with a poor match against Belgium, hasn’t helped his outside chances too much.
With the international tournaments reaching their conclusion, the only Ballon d’Or favourite to really boost his hopes has been Messi while everyone else has seemed to slip. In fact, Messi is now first in the betting odds for the award as well by a significant margin.
Of course, there is still half a year of football to be played, but Lionel Messi has put himself in pole position to take home the award, and if he does manage to finally get his first international trophy, he’ll be the overwhelming favourite to get his record-shattering seventh Ballon d’Or, a feat which is very unlikely to ever be replicated.
At the moment, the ball is firmly in his, and Argentina’s, court.