“Messi Ole, Messi Ole… Ole, Ole, Ole…” The fans – Argentinians and many more just of its star – had found their voice.
A stifling opening hour of play where nothing was created was taking this Argentine side a step closer to doom – an early World Cup exit and no swansong for Lionel Messi, who had built up an expectation-laden cloud of no joy for one last dance. Mexico was outnumbered but gamely sang on, its fans in green equally vocal despite the din of blue that filled most of the stadium. Its players, too, showcased the same fight – a crowded five-man defence bolting the space in the final third. The fouls came when needed and sometimes to just show Messi and his mates that this was no stroll in the park.
The blue and white were bruised and Messi could just walk, the touches were far from goal, and there was no path for his meandering runs. But then his moment came, Angel Di Maria – the prophet’s apostle – finding a sliver of space coming in from the right. Messi was miraculously unmarked as if the sea had parted for the messiah to work the magic of deliverance. A measured first touch – not too heavy, not too soft – set him up, the trigger followed, and the low drive nestling the ball in the bottom corner. The world erupted as Messi cried.
Argentina, too, was liberated as its skipper had his smile back. They attacked, willing the Mexicans to wilt to the cult of one man.
The other goal too came, though the wait was a little long. Messi again came to life – conserving his energy in the meantime. A corner was played short, and his ball found Enzo Fernandez inside the Mexican penalty box through the outstretched legs of opponents who still soldiered on. The Mexican resistance had broken, and they were a touch slower to the blocks, and the tackles missed the earlier snare of intimidation. Enzo had time, and a deft move took him past Erick Gutierrez before a shot was permed to the right top corner, Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican wall, now a defeated mortal.
Messi ran into the arms of the beneficiary and Fernandez was happy to carry the load of the captain. The deathly fog of despair was no more there and Maradona – two years and a day after his death – was also smiling among the stars.