The WhatsApp University of the world was quick to tell us last night that Mario Kempes had missed a penalty in Argentina’s third game in 1978 and the host won the championship; in 1986 Diego Maradona, too, missed a penalty in the third game against Bulgaria and Argentina of course won the Mexico Mundial and now Lionel Messi, as well, fluffed his penalty in the 2-0 win over Poland, the team’s third match of the 2022 campaign. These omens could have foretold the future only if they were true.
The Argentine captain, thankfully, didn’t buy into these fake divine signs from the past. “I am angry for missing the penalty, but the team came out stronger after my mistake. We knew that once the first goal was scored, it would change the game,” Messi said. “The Mexico game gave us peace of mind.”
Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny lost his USD 100 on-field bet with Messi that referee Danny Makkelie, the Dutch police officer, would not award a penalty for his light smack on the Argentine’s face but won this duel from six yards out.
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The top spot in Group C gave Argentina an easier round-of-16 opponent in Australia which came through after a 1-0 victory over Denmark. Messi, still, rightly sees the Aussies as tough competitors. “The match against Australia is going to be very difficult. It is a very even World Cup. There is no easy team to play. Anyone can beat anyone, and we have lived it first-hand. Now, another World Cup starts and hopefully we can maintain what we did today,” Messi said.
The 35-year-old continues to battle with the looming shadow of Diego that grows longer as each day passes.Here he surpassed his idol’s record of 21 games in the World Cup. “Diego would be happy. He was always happy about the nice things that happen to the Argentina national team and personally with me too. He was always close, affectionate,” said the now-aging heir.
“I ask the fans to trust us. This group will not let them down,” were his reassuring words.