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World Cup: Dream is alive for messiah Lionel Messi

Win or lose, the sun will come out, says Lionel Scaloni
Lionel Messi acknowledges the support Argentina received from their fans at the Lusail Stadium on Saturday.
Lionel Messi acknowledges the support Argentina received from their fans at the Lusail Stadium on Saturday.
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Angshuman Roy   |   Doha   |   Published 28.11.22, 04:35 AM

“Weight off the shoulders” and “peace of mind” — Lionel Messi kept reiterating these two points at a post-match news conference, showing what Saturday’s 2-0 win over Mexico meant for the team.

The first half was not the kind Argentina expected it to be. Mexico, with five defenders, were not giving any space to the likes of Messi, Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez. There were hardly any forward movements and once when Mexico conceded a freekick, Messi was way off target.

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Tension was in the air as the Argentine players walked down the tunnel to the dressing room. The doubts in the mind of those 88,966 — the biggest World Cup crowd in 28 years — were turning into that gnawing fear. The fear of one more failure... Memories of the 2002 World Cup, the debacle of last Tuesday at the hands of Saudi Arabia at the very same Lusail Stadium.
But then, four minutes after the hour mark, it happened. A ball from the right for Messi from Di Maria, his partner-in-goals for ages. A usual out-of-the-world first touch on the bounce and a 25-yard low volley. As it went past a diving Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and hit the back of the net, Messi, arms stretched, ran towards the stands. Teammates rushed in; on the bench, Pablo Aimar, one of the assistant coaches and a former teammate of Messi, could not hold back his tears. The Lusail Stadium was witnessing a gamut of emotions.

Enzo Fernandez’s curling beauty in the 83rd minute into the far corner was the icing on the cake. Argentina were alive and lived to fight another day. On Wednesday, against Poland, they need to win to top the group and avoid France in the second round. But those things for later, it’s the win against Mexico everyone is talking about.

“The weight is off our shoulders. We needed this peace of mind. We could not find the spaces we wanted, were not moving the ball like we wanted. The (first) goal changed the game,” Man of the Match Messi said, walking in more than an hour after the final whistle was blown.

Messi said the young players, for many Qatar is their first World Cup, were nervous at half-time. A pep talk from the master himself assuaged the players and cooled things down. “These are very young players. I told them we needed patience because we were aware of what we wanted to do. We were going too fast, and at times making mistakes with the ball. Then when we changed the way we played, it brought the goal,” he said.

Talking tactics

Coach Lionel Scaloni made three changes before the first goal came. Enzo Fernandez came in place of Guido Fernandez, Julian Alvarez replaced Lautaro, and out went Montiel Gonzalo with Nahuel Molina replacing him. “The first half wasn’t a good one for either team, but we started to play better in the second and Messi did what he does,” Scaloni would say later.

Mexico’s Argentine coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino was trying hard to hide the disappointment. “It was a game of two parts. The first 60 minutes, when we did not allow any space for Messi and Argentina, and then the 30 minutes when they turned things around.”

Hype and hope

Scaloni seemed to be insular of the impact another setback on Saturday would have brought. “You have to have more common sense and realise that you are playing a game of football.

“Call me crazy if you want to, but that’s how I look at things. Win or lose, the sun will come out,” Scaloni said, seeking to play down the hype. He should try to say this to Argentine fans like Bala Kumar. He took the Metro to Lusail on November 22 and saw his team lose.

On Saturday, he thought the 40-minute ride Metro ride again could see a similar result and forced his Hyderabad friend Sharath Sharma to take the bus. “Argentina! We can’t think of anything else.”

Another Cup starts for Messi’s Argentina and their fans.



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