The story is now complete. And it has a happy ending.
The chieftain, who only last year became a king, has now conquered the world. Until last year, Lionel Messi was part of teams that won club championships but had never won a title with his national team. It changed last year when Messi, arguably the best player in the world, led Argentina to the Copa America title; now, he has clinched the FIFA World Cup.
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar was Messi’s fifth and – in all probability, considering he is in his mid-30s – his last World Cup. Every player knows that there’s nothing like winning the World Cup: it’s not just a personal achievement but lifts the whole country. Even those who may not be sports fans may be thrilled by their country’s success. Winning national championships is big, but winning for the country is an experience to be cherished because it doesn’t happen too often.
Messi was named the player of the final, but many at the stadium felt Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez should have won that award. After all, had he not made that brilliant save in the dying seconds of extra time (121st minute), France would have won the title for the second time in four years. That wasn’t to be, and Messi’s ambition of lifting the FIFA World Cup was fulfilled. If he decides to quit now, he will do so on a high, unlike the person he is often compared to: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo had to face the ignominy of being benched for the last two games. The Portugal team manager who did that has now been sacked. Whether he was sacked for the inability of Portugal to get through to the semifinals or for making Ronaldo come on as a substitute will not be known. Fact remains that his decision to bench Ronaldo did make waves; it’s like the coach of the Indian cricket team asking Virat Kohli to bat at No. 8.
Talking of cricket, the Indian team’s win in the first Test against Bangladesh increases its chances of making it to the World Test Championship final. Admittedly, it needs to win four of its next five Test matches to get there, but as they say, well begun is half done. Cheteshwar Pujara got a Test century after a long time; it turned out to be his fastest in terms of deliveries faced. He also scored a gritty 90 in the first innings, digging India out of a hole. It was his partnership with Shreyas Iyer that steadied the ship, and thanks to significant contributions with the bat from R. Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav, India was able to post a 400-plus total.
Kuldeep showed a welcome return to form, picking up five wickets in the first innings and three in the second to pip Pujara for the player of the match award. It was a hard-fought win for India as the pitch got a lot better than on day one when the ball turned a fair bit. The pitch at Dhaka for the second Test might be a bit flatter, meaning more hard work in store for the Indian team. The team is looking nicely balanced to ace the test.
By all accounts, the Indian team has a lot of Messi fans, and it is hoped that Messi’s World Cup win will be just the inspiration the boys need to win the next few Tests and give themselves a shot at the ICC World Test Championship.
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