When Gonzalo Montiel scored the fourth and decisive penalty in the World Cup final, Lionel Messi – the captain of Argentina and its highest goal-scorer - sunk to his knees.
The 35-year-old was in tears, eight years ago at a similar stage of the tournament but on the other side of the result, with the Golden Ball in hand and his head down.
In Qatar, he made a round of the Lusail Stadium on the shoulders of former teammate Sergio Aguero with the famed World Cup trophy in his hands.
Messi flew into Doha with a different set of expectations than those in Brazil 2014. He was no more a Barcelona player; neither was he a scurrying 27-year-old forward.
Instead, the captain and a Copa America winner, was in his final World Cup – a tournament his country had last won under Diego Maradona 36 years ago in Mexico even before he was born.
At the global extravaganza, Messi’s playmaking ability saw him drop deep when the situation demanded, carry the ball into the final third and then... the magic began.
Argentina’s first match saw it take the through-ball approach when passes along the flanks were fed to Messi. When it fell flat, the Argentine donned a different robe – playing 1-2s, progressing through combination passes and releasing teammates (often forwards) in the final third.
In fact, Messi ran the least among most of his teammates - a mere 8 km against the team average of 10.5 km. But his passing ability saw him join forces with Alexis Mac Allister and Nicolas Otamendi for a perfect hit against Australia.
The same player – drawing defenders to himself against Netherlands – nutmegged Nathan Ake to deliver an exquisite pass to Nahuel Molina and open the scoring in the quarterfinals.
Dutch painter Rembrandt used to paint using a technique called ‘impasto’ which involved using thick colours through little brush strokes. But the strokes were so sublime, his paintings attract the most eyes in galleries around the world.
When Messi rounded Josko Gvardiol, dribbled down the right flank and cut back for a cross to Julian Alvarez, it looked like a routine - something he would do eyes closed during training.
But the very act in a packed Lusail Stadium is something different. It was so exquisite that the Croatian 20-year-old - one of the revelations in Qatar 2022 - was made to look like a court jester at the Shakespeare Globe who had forgotten his lines.
Against France and in perhaps the most important game of his life and career, Messi was at it again: making quick runs from the midfield and waiting for the right gap to slice through.
A tiny error and that was it – he was off, shifting from the mid-block to a high-block, marching forward with two, sometimes one, towards Lloris’ hideout.
The final goal from La Albiceleste presents the perfect example here. Argentina attacked on the counter, Lautaro Martinez snatched the ball, passed it to Messi who forwarded it to Enzo Fernandez, the three barging into the French penalty box.
Enzo crossed it for Lautaro but his shot – stopped by Lloris – was slammed home by Messi. Checkmate!
Messi had six goals in four World Cups before landing in Qatar. He now has 13 – more than any Argentine and the fourth-highest overall. With nine assists to go with it, he sits level with Pele in most goal contributions in the tournament.
Unlike his gameplay for Paris Saint-Germain, where his long balls are astutely received and delivered by Neymar, in Argentina colours, it was his little passes, runs and vision that set him apart and made him an absolute spectacle in the desert nation.
The seven-time Ballon D’Or winner had everything – a reliable and strong midfielder in Rodrigo de Paul, a Copa America-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and above all, a finisher to ensure the ball ended up at the back of the net - Julian Alvarez. The 22-year-old, with four goals in his maiden World Cup campaign, has turned out to be what Jorge Valdano was to Diego Maradona.
The Manchester City striker will start fighting for a starting spot in Pep Guardiola’s side when he returns to the Premier League next week.
It was a well-oiled machine for Messi to drive – orchestrating attacks, delivering assists, scoring decisive goals and saving crucial ones.
But the Chi-Flow was his despair: one last dance before calling it quits on a World Cup career marked by a blip - Gonzalo Higuain’s miss against Germany in the 2014 final. And what a dance it turned out to be in Qatar!
“Look what this cup is... it’s beautiful,” said Messi after winning the coveted trophy. “We suffered a lot, but we made it… it’s crazy that it happened this way. I wanted it badly. I knew that God was going to give it to me. I had a pre-sentiment that it was going to be this.…it made me feel enormously happy.”
The Argentine’s runs, run of goals and presence on the field in the 2022 World Cup, especially at the Lusail Stadium where he mostly played, have no doubt made him the Rembrandt of football – one you can stand and stare at for hours and hours without losing interest or appeal.
The king of Argentina now has a new name – Lionel Messi – and he just got his crown in Qatar.