Messi and his men deliver World Cup win for Argentina and beyond

This World Cup has made Messi one of their own, the one true global icon of this age where heroes are difficult to find. 

Published : Dec 19, 2022 20:37 IST , Doha

Lionel Messi with the World Cup trophy at Lusail Stadium.
Lionel Messi with the World Cup trophy at Lusail Stadium. | Photo Credit: AP

Lionel Messi with the World Cup trophy at Lusail Stadium. | Photo Credit: AP

There has been a feeling of anticipation in every corner of this city since we touched down 29 days ago. Every streetside conversation over kadak (chai), pleasantries swapped with stadium security officers, or banal exchanges with shopkeepers from the coconut tree-, toddy shop-dotted India’s western coastal state has been about “Meesi” and Qatar. 

That Lionel Messi would fulfill his destiny, rising from the Arabian desert to finally attain absolution, was always (in their mind) the end result of this expensively assembled World Cup, alongside a belief that their land – adopted or own – would become the permanent shrine for (one of) football’s greatest of all time. 

An opening game loss to neighbours Saudi Arabia did not waver that belief, and their support and conviction remained steadfast. And when the moment arrived, the locals – an eclectic mix of thobe-clad Arabs and South Asians and Africans in their designer knockoffs – were all proud. Each etching in their memory the moment when the king so long without a kingdom was finally crowned. The furtive call home by the Bangladeshi restroom attender at the final whistle, eulogising the virtues of Messi and whispering “jibon sharthak hoyiya geche” (life is fulfilled), or the blurry video call by the Indian food stall worker to his father to catch the moment when Messi lifted the Cup, or the tears of an Arab child wearing an Argentine gutra (head scarf), tell us how this World Cup has made Messi one of their own, the one true global icon of this age where heroes are difficult to find. 

He has been the superstar of this tournament, dragging and daring a team of good but not exceptional individuals to be better than the sum of its parts. The spirit of the collective has been Argentina’s biggest strength on its way to become world champions after 36 years. “We are fighters, and we were very strong despite the goals France scored. It was similar to the match against the Netherlands as we wanted to win and kept fighting,” coach Lionel Scaloni said after winning the biggest game of his life. 

This win is also for the Argentine people who are facing one of the longest-extended economic turmoils in their nation’s history. “These players play for the Argentine people; this is the greatest pride to play for Argentina and they broke their backs as they understood what they had to do on the pitch. Today we are World Cup champions,” said the other Lionel, who, like his more famous namesake, can’t wait to head back home and show off the trophy that the country had grown to believe will forever elude them after multiple heartbreaks over many years. 

Here, in the final, Messi and his Argentina refused to submit even as a young Kylian Mbappe threatened to rewrite the preordained script by scoring a hat-trick and leaving his mark as the World Cup’s top-scorer. 

“The match was insane,” said an emotional Scaloni. “I told the players in critical moments that we had to be optimistic. France had two chances and equalised before full-time, and we knew that if we played our game, we would have our chances. And before the penalties, Emiliano [Martinez] is a positive guy and he told his team that he was going to make some saves. And we had so many takers and that shows the confidence in the team.” 

The goalkeeper had stood tall in the shootout against the Netherlands, and in the final, his antics – he threw the ball away, forcing Aurelien Tchouameni to fetch it ahead of the third penalty – ensured France could only score two as Argentina converted its first four. 

That fighting spirit coursed through the veins of every Argentine player and Messi, as well, was no longer in his zen bubble but a brawler for the cause of his team. “It is such a pleasure to coach him and to be his teammate as he gives so much to his team. Everything he transmits to his teammates is something unparalleled that I have never seen before,” the coach said about his captain. 

Messi had already indicated the World Cup final will be his last game in the global event, but with the burden of the one missing trophy lifted in the fifth attempt, he promises to entertain his fans for at least a few more games (in national colours). “Obviously, I wanted to complete my career with this – I can’t ask for more,” he said. “Finishing my career this way is impressive. After this, what else? I have a Copa America, a World Cup. I love football, what I do. I enjoy being part of the national team, the group. I want to enjoy a couple more matches as a world champion.” 

Scaloni, who had convinced a disillusioned Messi to commit again to the national cause after the 2018 World Cup disappointment, hopes his persuasion skills will prolong the stay of the legend. “We need to save him a spot for the [next] World Cup. If he wants to keep playing, he will be with us. He is entitled to decide what he wants to do with his career,” he said.   

But, for now, with the World Cup trophy tightly clasped to his chest, Messi, at last, had no more shadows to chase. 

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