Lionel Messi defies time to play most minutes at World Cup


This was Lionel Messi’s World Cup, and he created a legacy of records that are likely to stand for many years. The Argentina striker won the Golden Ball for best player, he was named Player of the Match in five of his country’s seven matches, including the win over France in the final, and no player provided more than his three assists.

Messi’s seven goals took him past Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Maradona to become Argentina’s all-time leading goal scorer at the World Cup with 13, while he has now played more World Cup games (26) than anyone else, overtaking Germany’s Lothar Matthaus.

It’s all the more impressive that he’s achieved this at the age of 35, playing every single moment of Argentina’s campaign with no player at the whole tournament playing more minutes. The only other player aged 35 or over in the top 50 of appearances is France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker is joined by goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, 30, and fellow veteran Nicolas Otamendi, 34, in battling through every grueling minute of Argentina’s seven matches — including 139 minutes against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals and 141 minutes against France.

PSG restart their Ligue 1 campaign against Strasbourg on Dec. 28 before facing Lens on Jan. 1, and it’s fair to say Messi won’t be flying back to the French capital just yet. Likewise for Martinez, whose Aston Villa side are due to take on Liverpool on Monday, and Otamendi, with Benfica taking on Braga on Dec. 30.

Including the 100 minutes of added time, the trio played for 790 minutes — or 13 hours and 10 minutes. It’s 36 minutes more than any other player, with Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, 27, and defender Josko Gvardiol, 20, on the pitch for 754 minutes.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi’s arch-rival throughout his career, found himself dropped by Portugal during the tournament and played only 309 minutes — only 135th on the list.

France striker Kylian Mbappe, who just pipped Messi to the Golden Boot with his hat trick in the final taking him to eight goals, played for 690 minutes. On the France team, only Aurelien Tchouameni can top that with 700 minutes played.

Modric rolls back the years

Two other Croatia players feature in seventh and eighth on the list respectively, with Tottenham winger Ivan Perisic, 33, playing 722 minutes and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, 37, on 704 minutes.

There’s only two players older than Modric in the top 100 of minutes played, with Chelsea defender Thiago Silva, 38, managing to play 424 minutes of Brazil’s campaign, and FC Porto’s 39-year-old Portugal defender Pepe on 400 minutes.

Croatia could have had three players higher up the final table, but coach Zlatko Dalic chose not to use Dejan Lovren, Josip Juranovic (joint 15th, both 656 minutes) or Marcelo Brozovic (25th, 601 minutes) in the third-place game.

Morocco’s most-used player was the highly impressive Sofyan Amrabat, 26, who sits sixth in the list with 724 minutes played by the Fiorentina star. Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, 29, played 689 minutes with PSG’s Achraf Hakimi on 687.

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Lionel Messi and some fellow Argentina players narrowly avoid disaster as they duck underneath overhead wires on top of their World Cup parade bus.

The best of the rest

The four teams to reach the semi-finals dominate most minutes played, with two more fixtures than any other country. But with the impact of extra time several Netherlands players still feature high on the list.

Heerenveen goalkeeper Andries Noppert, Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and Inter Milan wing-back Denzel Dumfries played all 538 minutes of the Dutch campaign, with Manchester City defender Nathan Ake on 535 and Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong on 531.

For England, Everton keeper Jordan Pickford was the only one to play all 514 minutes, with Man City’s John Stones playing 493 and Manchester United duo Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire on 485 and 480 respectively.

Only one teenager features in the top 100, with England’s Jude Bellingham (19) playing 469 minutes in 48th. Barcelona and Spain midfielder Pedri turned 20 during the tournament, appearing for 388 minutes in 95th.

Although Brazil were also knocked out in quarterfinals, their heavy rotation in the final group game against Cameroon means they only have five players in the top 100. Their most used player was Marquinhos, who played 470 minutes (47th), followed by Silva and Casemiro .

HOW CLUBS ARE AFFECTED

Premier League

Tottenham Hotspur had three players to last through all rounds of the World Cup, more than any other Premier League club: Perisic (722 minutes), Lloris (650) and Cristian Romero (615.) Coach Antonio Conte had two other players who played 350 + minutes — Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane — but they at least got some rest, so Spurs’ team against Brentford on Monday could look different to usual.

Manchester City return to action against Leeds United the same day looking to claw back the five-point deficit to leaders Arsenal, but they will have to do it with the largest number of players to have played 350+ minutes at the World Cup.

Seven City stars were regulars, although the saving grace is only Argentina striker Julian Alvarez made it through to the final week — and they will of course have a fully rested Erling Haaland primed to start, with Norway failing to qualify for the finals.

Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Rodri and Manuel Akanji all played 350+ minutes but went home early. It will benefit Pep Guardiola’s side even more that Belgium were knocked out in the group stage, meaning Kevin De Bruyne was even back in friendly action against Girona on Saturday. Stones and Ake also had extensive minutes but aren’t certain starters for City anyway.

For Arsenal, coach Mikel Arteta only had two players who played 350+ minutes: backup goalkeeper Matt Turner with the United States and Granit Xhaka for Switzerland. Centre-back William Saliba was still with France through to the final, but he played only 40 minutes in Qatar. For more concerning for Arteta is the knee injury suffered by Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus, who could be out for up to three months.

Manchester United aren’t far behind their city rivals, with six players to play 350+ minutes, two of those still at the tournament in the final week. France’s Raphael Varane played 129 minutes in the final so probably won’t line up against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, while Argentina’s Lisandro Martinez (who played 358 minutes in total) was unused in the final.

Chelsea had five players who played extensive minutes, including Silva. Two players, Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic, were there for the full seven fixtures.

It’s better news for Jurgen Klopp, who can look forward to Liverpool’s trip to a likely Martinez-less Aston Villa with Mohamed Salah back from a break, after Egypt missed the finals, while only two members of his squad, Alisson and Van Dijk, played 350+ minutes and neither made it to the final week. Ibrahima Konate did so with France, playing 342 minutes with 12 of those in the final.

And what of Newcastle United, who sit in the Champions League places ahead of the restart? The Magpies had four players in the quarterfinals, but the most active was Kieran Trippier with 242 minutes. Manager Eddie Howe will have a fresh squad for the restart.

LaLiga

It’s going to be a close battle for the title in Spain, with Barcelona holding a two-point advantage over Real Madrid.

Barcelona had six players to feature for 350+ minutes, although only two — France stars Jules Kounde (543) and Ousmane Dembele (464) made it through the duration. Barca return to action at home to Espanyol on Dec. 31, so there’s more of a rest than for the Premier League clubs.

There was a lower workload for Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, although Modric and Tchouameni were of course two of the most active players. Brazil’s Eder Militao (381) was their only other player with extensive minutes, and while Eduardo Camavinga made it to the final with France he played just 167 minutes in total. The best news for Ancelotti will be that Karim Benzema, who missed the World Cup through injury, is now fit and fully focused having also announced his retirement from international football. They return at Real Valladolid on Dec. 30.

LEAGUE

Germany’s dismal performance, being knocked out in the group stage, means the workload on the stars of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund was low. That said, the Bundesliga enjoys a huge break and isn’t back in action until Jan. 20.

Bayern’s most active players were France defender Dayot Upamecano (551 minutes) and Morocco’s Noussair Mazraoui (391 minutes), although they will have to manage without goalkeeper Manuel Neuer after he suffered a broken leg on a post-World Cup skiing trip.

For Borussia Dortmund, England midfielder Bellingham played 469 minutes in getting to the quarterfinals, but no BVB player made it past that stage of the tournament.

Series A

The real winners in Serie A are Napoli. Eight points clear at the top, with only two players to make it to the round of 16 — Poland’s Piotr Zielinski (361) and Kim Min-Jae of South Korea (294.) They will be perfectly fresh when the Italian league returns on Jan. 4.

With Italy failing to make it to the World Cup there was a reduced impact on its teams although Juventus, who are 10 points adrift in third, had three players in the final: Angel Di Maria (326), Leandro Paredes (258) and Adrien Rabiot (561.) AC Milan, who are second, had two, Theo Hernandez (575) and Olivier Giroud (451); the same as Inter with Argentina’s Lautaro Martinez (297) and Brozovic.

Ligue 1

When Paris Saint-Germain return to action against Strasbourg on Dec. 28, we can assume it will be without a few of their star names.

Messi and Mbappe will surely have an extended break. Morocco wing-back Hakimi also made it to the last weekend while Marquinhos was Brazil’s most active player. Neymar returns having only played 293 minutes after he missed most of the group stage through injury.



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