It is the curse of every Argentinian No10 to be measured against Diego Maradona, but for Lionel Messi the comparison took on extra weight during the summer of 2005.
Messi won the top scorer and player of the tournament prizes as he led his country to victory at the Under-20 World Cup in the Netherlands.
The 18-year-old’s heroics prompted inevitable talk about a possible successor to Maradona, who had been the star turn when Argentina won the same trophy in 1979.
Maradona, of course, fulfilled the hope generated by his youthful promise, inspiring the Albiceleste to World Cup glory at Mexico 1986.
Messi, however, is yet to claim the biggest prize in international football and, unless his Argentina side can overcome Croatia on Tuesday in Qatar, he probably never will.
Last year he ticked one of the few remaining unchecked boxes on his CV by winning the final of the Copa America at the fourth attempt. Now the World Cup is the only glaring omission.
At 35, this is almost certain to be his last shot at emulating Maradona’s achievement with the senior side, as he admitted in October, a few weeks before the tournament.
“Surely, this will be my final World Cup,” Messi told ESPN. “I’m counting down the days. On one hand, I can’t wait for it to arrive, but I’m also desperate for it to go well.”
Romantics – at least those outside Croatia – will also be hoping that Messi’s quest continues into Sunday’s final, where he could meet the man most likely to inherit his status as the world’s best footballer, France’s Kylian Mbappe.
And he is not the only player in the Argentina squad for whom this represents a last realistic shot: winger Angel di Maria and defender Nicolas Otamendi are both 34.
Messi should not need to win the World Cup to be recognised as the greatest footballer of all time, although it would silence a few doubters.
He was the leading light of the best club team of the 21st century – Barcelona – and his goalscoring feats, in competition with Cristiano Ronaldo, have set new standards.
In an era in which individual awards have taken on greater prominence, his seven Ballons d’Or also underline that he has been a peerless presence at the pinnacle of the game.
But more than that, his footballing genius has been self-evident since his teenage years: Messi simply does things with a ball that no one else in history ever has.
If any side can make it difficult for Argentina and Messi, however, then it is Croatia, who have only enhanced their reputation as never-say-die competitors at this World Cup.
They have only led for a total of 46 minutes in their five matches and, just as on their march to the final in Russia four years ago, have progressed to the last four via two penalty shootouts.
And in 37-year-old Luka Modric, they have their own Messi: a generational playmaking talent seeking to bow out of the biggest stage in the grand manner.