“Where there is Messi, there is hope for Argentina”
|Host Nation: Qatar Dates: November 20-December 18 Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day by day TV listings – Full coverage details|
Argentina’s massive support gathered in their thousands at Qatar’s Energy City, adjacent to the massive Lusail Stadium, with only one man at their head as they faced World Cup danger.
Lionel Messi has carried the hopes of this football-mad nation for most of his career, but there was an extra layer of tension as Argentina faced old rivals Mexico in a bewildering atmosphere on stage which will host the final.
Argentina knew defeat would end their World Cup after two games after the embarrassment of defeat to Saudi Arabia in the opening game. Messi knew that would mean the great honor that has eluded him in a glittering career would forever be out of reach.
Messi once again shouldered Argentina’s expectations, and once again delivered with a piece of trademark magic when he needed it most to change the course of a game of attrition, and maybe even change the course of your team’s world. Cup in process.
The clock showed 64 minutes. Every second that passed raised the pressure valve on Argentina and, in turn, on Messi. He knows that any Argentine failure on this stage, justified or not, can be painted as Messi’s failure.
He had been on the sidelines but took center stage to devastating effect as Mexico fell victim to the magical left foot that has broken the hearts of so many opponents.
A touch delicately killed Angel di Maria’s pass. The second touch sent an arrow into the bottom corner past the outstretched left arm of Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Amidst an explosion of noise from the Argentine fans, Messi ran towards them with his arms outstretched in that familiar celebratory pose. He looked very emotional with relief and release, engulfed by teammates who knew the man they trust the most had delivered again.
As the crowd of players dispersed, Messi stood in front of the light blue and white fans pumping their arms with exultation. He knew what it meant to them. They knew what it meant to him. mutual ecstasy
The best players deliver when it matters, so it should come as no surprise that Messi is producing again.
Up until that point, it hadn’t been an easy night for Messi against Mexico, who clearly relished the idea of putting his skates under an Argentina side heavily tipped to lift the World Cup at this very Lusail Stadium on December 18.
Messi had been marginalized by Mexico. He was unable to exert any influence in a quagmire of stops and infringements in the first half, the 35-year-old often at walking pace looking for space to escape the oncoming Mexican attentions.
It was when a football game finally broke out in the second half that Messi flourished with the characteristic dribbles, quick passes and, of course, the goal-breaking stroke of genius.
Argentina relaxed thanks to Messi, this team’s security blanket, and Enzo Fernández added a glorious second with a right-footed shot in the 87th minute.
It sent its fans home with 88,966, the highest World Cup attendance since the 1994 final in Pasadena, happy, at least those who went home because many remained in the stands almost an hour later from the final whistle paying tribute. to his heroes, and one hero in particular.
Messi had given life to Argentina’s World Cup. They still need victory against Poland, with their own national icon in striker Robert Lewandowski, to be sure of going through, but real belief has risen in their ranks thanks to a left-footed strike from Messi.
I knew exactly what was going on in this game.
“We can’t give up now,” Messi said. “We have all the finals to play, we can’t make mistakes. We knew we had to win, that another World Cup was starting for us, and we knew how to do it.”
Messi certainly knew how to do it.
He knows this will be his last World Cup, the only elite stage in which he has yet to collect the prize. Messi suffered the pain of defeat to Germany at the Maracanã in Rio in the 2014 final. That was the closest he has come to getting his hands on the World Cup.
Messi’s career has brought four Champions Leagues, seven Ballon d’Or and 10 League titles to Barcelona. His time at Paris St-Germain is still regarded as a footnote, but even there he has won a Ligue 1 crown.
The World Cup is the missing link and this is Messi’s last chance to claim it.
Argentina didn’t quite convince, yet to show the form that makes them world number three, and the prospect of a painful exit still looms as they face dangerous opponents in Poland.
For now, however, Argentina’s World Cup show is back on the road because where Lionel Messi is, there is hope.
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