FIFA World Cup: Messi rides the Mexican wave

FIFA World Cup: Messi rides the Mexican wave

Lionel Messi lurked unmanned, 25 yards from colorfully dressed Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, and picked off a pass from Angel di Maria from the right wing. And stopped. The world around him also stopped. It always does when Messi has the ball on his left foot. Eighty thousand pairs of eyes at Lusail Stadium, wherever they sat or stood, fixed their gaze on the most precious left foot on earth. So would have millions of eyes around the world. Because, the ball falling on Messi’s foot is an event in itself. It is a moment characterized by infinite possibilities, dimensions, scripts and routes, when Messi takes the form of human destiny; or destiny takes the form of Messi.

The world-stopping first touch cannot be glorified more. It was a touch more beautiful than the goal itself. An ounce heavier, the haggling Mexican defenders would have hacked it away. He would not have found the power of a drop of lighter. Out of the corner of his right eye, he traced the perfect path to beat the countless legs and bodies that would intervene and the outcome of Ochoa in the ball’s goal-to-goal journey. The eyes settled on the bottom corner. Thoughts settled on a low grass trimming. Twisting his lithe frame a fraction, he let his left foot rip, a last-second snap of his boot giving direction.

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Like an artist salivating over his marvelous handiwork, Messi watched the ball ripple through the nets. The world and the eyes stopped again, and at that exact moment, Messi tore off into the distance, hands spread wide, a few drops of tears rolling down his eyes, strove for di Maria, the provider of the goal, and wrapped him in the tightest of hugs. When the festivities were finally over, Messi looked and winked at the sky. He would have found his destiny written in the starless sky. He was the lone star in Lusail.

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In the dugout, coach Lionel Scaloni covered the tears from his eyes with the palms of his hands. “At that moment, half the world would have wanted to hug him,” he said. His assistant Pablo Aimar wept uncontrollably. Even Mexican supporters cried. Messi is the most unifying force in football. It was such an emotional moment for Argentina, a moment of redemption, a moment of liberation. From the deep abyss of pain and shock, after the Saudi Arabia shock, Messi has lifted them to the peak of ecstasy. Argentina are not yet assured of knockout tickets, may not even qualify, may stumble against Poland. But here was the moment. Here was Messi. Here was the kiss of life. In Messi’s own words: “Peace of mind”. He would say after the match: “It’s a weight off our shoulders, a reason for joy and peace of mind because it’s up to us again.”

It would not have been the most aesthetic of Messi’s goals. It was not the most divine of his goals. But it was without a doubt the most important of the 93 goals he has scored for his country. A goal that relieved, if only slightly, the burden of being Messi. A goal that would make himself and the world around him feel lighter and happier. A measure of pure and noisy relief. It is the context that makes the goal. Messi in his last World Cup, as for now; his team and country shocked after the Saudi robbery, many teams fail to recover from such defeats; an anxious, tense first half when nothing clicked; everything clicked. Messi was heavily marked, his feet bound, his inspiration stifled. His attacking colleagues were heavy and flat, as if the Saudi pain still lingered, as if they felt lost. Argentina and Messi could see the dream and the world crumble before their eyes. Lose this match and there would be no return. Messi would fade into the horizon with the eternal regret of not winning a World Cup. A dream Argentina had seen a million times over the past seventeen years, since Messi first donned the Albiceleste shirt, was about to become nightmarish.

His dream was 25 minutes away from slipping away when Messi found the ball at his left foot. The pressure and burden that would have weighed on his shoulders may have crushed his shoulders. But saw the lease of light flashing in the bottom corner. His left foot would not betray him; his fate would not cheat him. He then unfolded the shot that lifted a country and more from the depths of despair.

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The goal changed the mood. From suspicious trespassers, they transformed into ruthless destroyers. Freedom and joy returned to the game, creating more chances and storming Mexico’s goal. Even Messi, mostly gloomy and gloomy in the game, started to smile more often. Another goal was inevitable and 21-year-old Enzo Fernandez unleashed a blistering curler past the outstretched arms of Ochoa to become the second-youngest goalscorer for his country after Messi. The celebration was wild, the overwhelming feeling a triumph and not a catharsis. Later, he dwelt on the importance of the goal: “We cannot give up now. We have all the finals to play – we can’t make mistakes. We knew we had to win, that a new World Cup was starting for us, and we knew how to do it.

The Messi dream has been revived; The Argentina dream has been revitalized. But the ultimate realization of the dream will depend on how quickly Argentina can revive their 36-game unbeaten run. But between now and the Poland game, they could dream. And relive the Messi moment, an event in itself. A moment less than a second, but a moment that would live forever.

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