Messi strike shakes Mexico and Lusail, brings Argentina back from the brink | undefined News

DOHA: A little boy tore off the jersey he was wearing, simply yanked it off. His father cheering wildly next to him, didn’t notice at first, then gently admonished him to put it back on, as if to say, ‘You don’t do these things in the costly tickets section’. The boy was beyond caring. Both went back to cheering madly what just happened, participating in an almost pagan ritual of the extraordinary. What they didn’t notice was that the other sibling next to them, only barely older, was sobbing, shaking uncontrollably his Argentina flag. He may not have been alone. Many in the vein-pulsing, eye-popping, heaving Lusail Stadium packed to a capacity of 88,966, would have had a lump in their throats, wept like kids. So overwhelming the effect of the moment was, so unifying and euphoric in its collective release.
On the field below, Lionel Messi had just skidded the ball low and sharp past the left of the ultra-chill, gum-chewing Guillermo Ochoa to cause this tremor. It didn’t look the most elegant, but it was perfect in its calculation – Angel Di Maria knowing exactly when to let go of the ball, its execution, devastating in its effect. It would affect him, shake him to the core like he did all of us. It would be the shaking off, yet again, of a million tonnes of doubt and fear – yes, even the mightiest of them too feel it – like he’s had to do so many times in this strange saga of a career, where he is otherworldly talent one moment, frail human the next. He felt it, we felt it, the world was not far behind.
Later he would tell us about it. “We needed this euphoria in this game that we had to win. We needed this peace of mind, this peace of mind for everyone to be able to start again and to be ourselves.”
Argentina is back, a tiny renaissance, but back. The World Cup chant is back on. The loud, brash, self-absorbed, almost irritating, tribalist Argentina fan, who had gone into a chastened hiding, a self-induced sulk, since Tuesday earlier this walk after that sobering experience at the hands of Saudi Arabia, found his voice again.
Even as other sides went as per their norm, form and type – France winning sleek, Brazil putting on the show, England running out of ideas, Italy, not there — what this World Cup so desperately needed, was finally delivered at the expense of a brave Mexico which once again, unwittingly, provided the platform from where Argentina would find it’s revival in their seemingly impossible, forever condemned quest for the World Cup title, eluding them since 1986. Because Enzo Fernandez’s curl from the left was so reminiscent of Maxi Rodriquez’s memorable strike – similarly late into the night — against this friendly, familiar foe in the 2006 World Cup, only that it was from the other side. Back then, in Germany, till that moment, both sides were sparing as equals. In Lusail on Saturday, matching the other vocal chord for vocal chord, decibel for decibel, note for hoarse note, the affable Mexican fan was comforting himself, tell themselves other that it was okay to lose like this, to lose to such an epochal strike from Leo Messi. Till that time, it was okay, it was the game of equals, until Fernandez’s strike simply broke their will. Ochoa hardly ever lets anything past him, this time it was simply beyond the great Mexican.
The coast is still not clear, land not yet sighted but at least, and in the heavy weather fashion that they cannot seem to do without, they have at least wrested their destiny back in their grasp, which had seemed so done and over, so trampled upon till Friday, when all that Lionel Scaloni, head coach, and Lautaro Martinez would try to convince us, that churn in the stomach just would not go.
It would show on his team too, the early movements against Mexico rushed, tentative, unsure. Was this that vastly settled team, once where Messi was finally finding peace and harmony created under the favourable environment of Scaloni and his deputy, Pablo Aimar, Messi’s childhood hero, that they told us about? The one with that 36-game unbeaten run?
As they pushed for the ball and got hustled off by Mexico – their Argentine manager, Gerard Martino, stuffing in an extra man in an already-crowded four-man defence to try to further pile on the misery for his home countrymen. It would work for long periods, Argentina choked out of space, not finding any elbow room in the middle and generally getting more frantic and this, less composed on the ball, as time wore on. Messi cut an increasingly lonely figure as the game wore on. Was there nothing in the bank, was it really so devoid of idea and invention as we had come to fear? Where was he, and why wasn’t he in it?
It must take extraordinary courage and belief in your abilities to be unruffled when everything seems to be collapsing in slow motion, and the clock’s ticking down, this is the only chance left. “We didn’t expect to win 3-0 at half-time,” Scaloni would tell us later.
Messi would take it one notch further. “I told them to be patient,” he would say, almost staggering us, “These are very young players, many playing their first World Cup. We were going too fast, and at times making mistakes with the ball. I told them we needed patience, to be patient because we were aware of what we wanted to do. Then when we changed the way we played, it brought the goal. After the goal, we became who we are again.”
Then he said, and now we understood: “Another World Cup has started for us. We cannot let our guard down now.”

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