Messi’s reliable genius keeps Argentina’s World Cup dream alive


Chris Jones is in Qatar protecting the boys’s World Cup for CBC Sports.

The males’s World Cup has reworked Doha into a wierd sort of soccer Louvre.

Normally, the journey from one recreation to the subsequent requires a flight throughout a complete nation, like in South Africa in 2010 or Brazil in 2014 or Russia 4 years in the past. Here in Qatar, each stadium is inside an hour of wherever you might be. One afternoon, go watch Kylian Mbappé or Robert Lewandowski. This evening, absorb Lionel Messi.

At 35, he can appear as a lot artwork as artist, and this may be our final probability to see him at a World Cup. The nice Messi has stated as a lot: He is making his ultimate attempt on the solely trophy he has by no means gained.

His fifth try had begun in stunning vogue: Argentina, among the many favourites to win all of it due to Messi’s want alone, misplaced to flippantly regarded Saudi Arabia. Messi scored, however on a penalty. In open play, within the channels and fissures of the sport the place he made his legend, he was shut down and shut out.

Late Saturday at colossal, glittering Lusail Stadium — the place this 12 months’s ultimate can be performed — Messi and his teammates resumed their marketing campaign with what was primarily a must-win recreation in opposition to Mexico. Organizers stated they obtained extra media requests for the match than another to this point. It was assured to be an occasion.

Messi exhibits a few of his ball magic in opposition to Mexico. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

We, together with a number of thousand nerve-sick Argentines, would witness both pleasure or tragedy. Either Messi would placed on a virtuoso efficiency and win, or he would fall quick, leaving him with just one recreation left in his World Cup life.

We noticed pleasure.

Argentina gained, 2-0, and Messi scored the primary — a aim so attractive, it was price each sort of wait to see it.

For the primary half, the rollicking ambiance had made extra of an impression than the sport itself, which was tight and rhythmless. When Messi walked off the sector at halftime, he will need to have felt the primary traces of a horrible weight.

Adding to the drama: Messi and his teammates confronted Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, one of many nice World Cup enigmas. A reasonably abnormal skilled, he’s roused from his slumber each 4 years to play out of his thoughts for Mexico till the spherical of 16.

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It had felt potential, within the anxious hours earlier than the Argentina match, that Ochoa’s inexplicable World Cup magic would possibly someway conquer Messi’s extra reliable genius.

Early within the second half, it appeared as if we’d discover out. Messi gained himself a free kick 24 yards out from Mexico’s aim, simply off-centre. It was the proper place for him to attain.

Six Mexicans stood in a wall in entrance of him. He positioned the ball and bent over along with his fingers on his legs, as if he have been communing along with his personal physique.

He lifted his shot over the crossbar, and his fingers returned to his legs for various causes.

Then, out of nowhere, out of nothingness, Messi got here to life.

At age 35, Messi is as a lot artwork as he’s artist, writes Chris Jones. (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

In the sixty fourth minute, the ball discovered his actually golden boots, within the backbone of the pitch, 25 yards out. He took one contact after which unleashed probably the most well-known left foot on Earth.

The low, onerous shot was inch good. Even Ochoa could not cease it. The keeper dived to his left, totally prolonged. The ball handed by his fingertips. Then it whispered contained in the publish.

By the time it hit the again of the web, Messi was already operating to the nook to have fun, screaming on the prime of his lungs, and nonetheless many hundreds of Argentines within the stadium, nonetheless many thousands and thousands of them around the globe, had felt all of the air exit of theirs.

After some frantic late Mexican urgent, Enzo Fernández made his personal wonder-strike within the 87th minute to present everybody permission to breathe.

Messi was making his twenty first World Cup look, equalling Diego Maradona’s iconic Argentine file. He will get at the very least yet another to interrupt it, and it is going to be memorable it doesn’t matter what. Argentina nonetheless wants a win in its final group-stage recreation in opposition to Poland on Nov. 30 to ensure itself a spot within the knockout rounds.

They will most likely want Messi to ship it to them, and he appears decided to oblige. He is aware of these are his final days to be the painter, earlier than he turns into the paint.

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