Lionel Messi in the World Cup final is a wonderful moment for football… Argentina will be playing for him, says Zabaleta

PABLO ZABALETA won five major trophies with Manchester City and played alongside Lionel Messi when Argentina lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany.

Here he writes about the magic of Messi, who says Sunday’s final will be his last World Cup game.

EPASunday’s World Cup final against France will be Lionel Messi’s last game in the tournament[/caption]

GettyMessi and Pablo Zabaleta are former Argentina team-mates[/caption]

LIONEL MESSI is desperate to win this World Cup — and as Argentinians, we all desperately want that, too.

It has been amazing to watch his performances, his celebrations, the passion he is showing on the pitch.

How he performed against Croatia in the semi-final on Tuesday was incredible.

For all the people who love football, this is a moment to enjoy because I’m not sure we’ll have an opportunity to see Messi in another World Cup after this weekend.

You can see why so many fans have travelled over from South America to be in Qatar.

Everyone is excited he will play in a second World Cup final.

We were so close in 2014 when we lost the final 1-0 to Germany in extra-time in Brazil.

That was very hard to take.

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There will be tension on Sunday against France, there will be nerves.

But every single player has to enjoy the occasion — whether it’s 90 minutes, 120 minutes or penalties.

We need to be humble and keep our feet on the ground given the experience of the first game, the defeat to Saudi Arabia.

We have also seen a lot of upsets at this World Cup.

After losing three consecutive finals with Argentina between 2014-16 — the World Cup and then two Copa Americas on penalties to Chile — Messi took a brief break.

There was a lot of criticism on him.

It was a tough period for Messi.

But winning the Copa America in 2021 on his return — particularly against Brazil on their own ground — took the pressure off.

You can see that, at 35, he is enjoying it on the field again in an Argentina shirt.

He’s in a good mood.

In the last three years, Messi has matured and become a true leader for the team.

Messi has always been a good professional behind the scenes.

He loves football and is also a big family man.

It is not easy for a person like him to go out.

Everyone will recognise him.

It’s hard for those type of people to go out and enjoy a normal life.

To go to the cinema or do activities outside with the kids.

That’s why when he played for Barcelona, he spent most of the time at home, with his family, hosting BBQs.

What has been important this time is the fact the players are following Messi.

He’s an inspiration to the younger players, especially those like Alexis Mac Allister with little international experience.

You may have seen on social media there is a photo of his 22-year-old strike partner, Julian Alvarez, posing with Messi when he was just 12.

GettyMessi has been at the top since Julian ALvarez and Alexis Mac Allister were kids[/caption]

So imagine what it must mean to them to play alongside their hero now.

Messi has always been shy and quiet — not a player or person who is very vocal in the dressing room.

But he is one of those players that when he does speak, everyone will listen to his words.

Coming from Messi, one of the greatest players of all time, if you don’t get inspired when you hear him talking, it’s because you are not a human being.

When I see Messi walking out as captain, everyone is behind him.

Playing for their lives but also for Messi.

This is something that makes us all very emotional in Argentina.

It would be brilliant to see Messi lifting the greatest trophy in world football.

Pablo Zabaleta will be part of the BBC’s World Cup Final coverage this Sunday. The World Cup Final is live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds.

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