Lionel Messi (Rosario, 1987)
At just 18 years of age, and only two as a professional player, the Argentine star made national team manager José Pékerman’s team and became the youngest Argentine player to ever appear in a World Cup. Messi was already established on Barça’s first team, and was one of the biggest prospects in international football. Messi, however, did not play in Argentina's first game, which came against Ivory Coast.
On June 16, 2006, just eight days after celebrating his 19th birthday, Messi’s long awaited World Cup debut finally came. It was the second game of the group stage, and with Argentina leading 3-0 over Serbia and Montenegro, Messi came on in the 75th minute to make a debut that football fans around the world would never forget. Messi needed only 3 minutes to chalk up his first assists, and just 15 minutes to score his first goal. The match ended with a 6-0 Argentina rout, and a dream debut for the young Barça star. Messi was rewarded for his play with a place in the starting XI for the next game.
Argentina, however, was knocked out in a penalty kick shootout with Germany in the quarterfinals. Messi did not play, a coaching decision that at the time was widely criticized.
Despite his youth, Messi continued marveling the world with his football, and would go on to become the best player in the world. Today, the best player in Barça history is still dazzling the fans at Camp Nou. Messi is now tied with Andrés Iniesta for the most titles in Barça history, with 31, and has racked up a long list of individual honors including the five Ballons d’Or and five Golden Shoes.