Lionel Messi, we’ve been expecting you. The Argentina captain may have been a trifle late, but not too late to revive his country’s foundering fortunes at the Qatar World Cup.
The Messi moment at the Lusail Stadium arrived 62 minutes into the game on Saturday (November 26). By then the blue and white army of supporters had shouted themselves hoarse for a moment of brilliance to quell Mexico.
It duly arrived, wrapped in nonchalance and sprinkled with star dust. A goal out of thin air. That’s what magicians do. That’s what Messi does. There wasn’t sniff of a chance, yet the goal materialised.
It had a familiar ring. The left foot briefly rose to control the cross from Angel Di Maria. The unmarked Messi was at the top of the D confronted by three sets of legs, maybe a pass would be a better option. No, not for Messi. He’s no ordinary mortal. For a fleeting moment there was a tiny gap, and Messi threaded a raking drive through it past the despairing dive of goalie Guillermo Ochoa.
Pandemonium erupted in the stands. The cavernous stadium roared in appreciation of a maestro’s work. The sea of Argentina supporters found their voice and Messi, arms outstretched, skipped towards the throngs behind the Mexican goal and leapt into Di Maria’s arms before he was smothered by his teammates.
The 35-year-old emerged from the scrum teary-eyed. Those were tears of joy and relief writ large on his face. Messi was a happy man, blowing kisses into the crowd before trudging back.
In 26 years, no Argentine goal was celebrated with such gusto. It was a goal celebrated around the world by Argentina fans, but no more than in the squares of Buenos Aires. For it revived visions of an end to their World Cup drought.
A similar strike in the Copa America final brought some succour. But World Cup is the stratosphere of football. And Argentina were gasping to survive. Messi’s goal was the kiss of life.
The Argentine has scored more magical goals in his career, but none more priceless than this one in Doha.
Priceless for Messi and Argentina. This is Messi’s swansong at the World Cup. The only trophy missing from his cupboard, which is brimming with seven Ballon d’Ors and ten winners’ medals from La Liga and four Champions League titles. Copa America was added last year.
This could be Argentina’s year at the World Cup, football enthusiasts said before despairingly watched their hopes sink against Saudi Arabia in the opener. The pattern continued for an hour against Mexico before the Messi magic.
It liberated Messi and his teammates from the vortex of self doubt. The boundless joy was evident in the delightful curling shot from Enzo Fernandes which nestled in the far corner of the Mexican net to seal the win.
The Albiceleste are back in the race.
Shyam A. Krishna
Shyam A. Krishna is Senior Associate Editor at Gulf News. He writes on health and sport.