Lionel Messi’s goal-scoring record at FIFA World Cups: Not quite at par with his legendary status

Lionel Messi has scored six goals in 19 matches at World Cups. All of them have come in group matches.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by Getty Images

With over 750 senior goals for club and country, Lionel Messi’s credentials as one of the greatest goal scorers in football history are beyond any doubt.

However, the Argentinian master hasn’t quite lived up to these lofty standards on the FIFA World Cup stage.

Lionel Messi has scored six goals in 19 matches at the FIFA World Cup, spanning four editions (2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018).

The stats put Leo Messi’s scoring rate at football World Cups at just 0.32 goals per game. Though an impressive number for many, it is considerably lower than the 0.53 goals per game he boasts in his international outings with Argentina.

Lionel Messi has netted 86 goals in 162 international matches in his career, making him the top goal scorer of all time for Argentina. Messi is also fourth on the list of highest goal scorers in international football and second amongst active players, only behind rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

But at the World Cups, Messi features way down the list. Germany’s Miroslav Klose (16 goals from 24 matches) is the highest scorer at the quadrennial meet.

Gabriel Batistuta (10 goals from 12 matches) has been Argentina’s most prolific scorer at FIFA World Cups, followed by the great Diego Maradona (8 goals in 21 matches) and Uruguay 1930 Golden Boot winner Guillermo Stabile (8 goals in four matches). Mario Kempes (six goals in 18 matches), too, has the same number of goals as Messi in the Argentina shirt.

Lionel Messi does have a considerably better goal-scoring record in FIFA World Cup qualifiers though, having netted 28 times in 60 appearances.

Lionel Messi, now 35, is entering the twilight of his career and will be eyeing to improve his World Cup goal-scoring record considerably at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar later this year.

While the world waits for Messi’s performance in Qatar, here’s a look at the Argentinian icon’s goals at the FIFA World Cup.

Lionel Messi first FIFA World Cup goal vs Serbia and Montenegro

Lionel Messi scored his first goal in the football World Cup at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany against Serbia and Montenegro in Argentina’s second Group C clash at the FIFA World Cup Stadium in Hamburg.

After witnessing his team beat Ivory Coast 2-1 in their group opener from the bench, Lionel Messi made his World Cup debut against Serbia and Montenegro in the following fixture after coming off the bench in the 75th minute.

Argentina were already leading 3-0 at the time and just three minutes into his debut, Lionel Messi assisted Hernan Crespo for Argentina’s fourth goal of the match. In the 88th minute, Messi got on the scoresheet after latching onto a Carlos Tevez pass and beating the opposition goalkeeper at the near post to complete a 6-0 drubbing.

With his maiden goal at the global showpiece, Lionel Messi, then 18 years and 357 days old, became Argentina’s youngest scorer at the FIFA World Cup.

Argentina coach Jose Pekerman handed Lionel Messi his first FIFA World Cup start in a 0-0 draw against the Netherlands and the teenager also made a substitute appearance as Argentina beat Mexico 2-1 in the round of 16. He, however, was an unused substitute as Germany knocked Argentina out through penalties in the quarter-final.

Disappointment at South Africa 2010

Unlike the 2006 World Cup, where he came in as an up-and-coming teenager, Lionel Messi had the burden of expectations stacked on him for the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa.

Leo Messi had, after all, set the bar high following his exploits with Barcelona and guiding Argentina to the Olympic gold medal at Beijing 2008. However, the script didn’t quite play out as planned for the Argentinian maestro.

Argentina made it to the quarters again before being ousted by Germany but Messi, despite contributing heavily to the team throughout, remained goalless in his five matches. His only goal contribution at the edition was an assist to Carlos Tevez during Argentina’s 3-1 win over Mexico in the round of 16.

Bittersweet Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup

After the 2010 campaign, Lionel Messi had a lot to prove by the time the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil rolled in. This time, the little maestro took the tournament by the scruff of the neck.

Lionel Messi, with four goals and one assist in seven matches, almost single-handedly dragged Argentina to the final but eventually, Messi and Co. fell short after Germany, again, beat them 1-0 in the final.

Two of his goals came in a 3-2 win over Nigeria in a group match. It’s the only time Lionel Messi has scored more than one goal in a single FIFA World Cup match.

Besides being the top scorer for his team in the 2014 World Cup, Lionel Messi was adjudged the best player of the tournament and won the Golden Ball award.

Early exit at Russia 2018

The FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia saw Argentina knocked out in the round of 16 by eventual champions France.

Lionel Messi, despite missing a potential match-winning penalty against Iceland in Argentina’s first game, however, was the standout player for Argentina in what was otherwise a disappointing campaign for the South Americans.

Messi’s only goal in the tournament came in the final group match against Nigeria, setting the tone for a 2-1 win. It was a virtual playoff game for both sides to make it to the knockouts.

With his goal against Nigeria in the 2018 edition, Messi, interestingly, became the first player in history to score in the FIFA World Cup in his teens, twenties and thirties.

Even during the 4-3 loss to France in the final-eight clash, Messi was the one who kept Argentina’s hopes alive right till the end, assisting two of his team’s three goals.

Lionel Messi has never scored in a knockout game at the FIFA World Cup. All six of his goals came in group games.

Lionel Messi’s FIFA World Cup goals

No. Opponent FIFA World Cup Match
1 Serbia and Montenegro Germany 2006 Group stage
2 Bosnia and Herzegovina Brazil 2014 Group stage
3 Iran Brazil 2014 Group stage
4 Nigeria Brazil 2014 Group stage
5 Nigeria Brazil 2014 Group stage
6 Nigeria Russia 2018 Group stage


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