This was unnecessary for Lionel Messi. However, he earned it.
The World Cup has loomed over him for far too long, acting more as a crushing force than as a reward to be welcomed. Messi transformed the unimaginable into the commonplace. He had to provide more, though. He had to provide the missing component. He had to climb the same mountains as Diego Maradona had in 1986. 36 years later, Messi paid a fitting homage to the player he will always be pitted against, whose departure in 2020 seemed to provide this squad the impetus they needed to win the South American and international championships.
The similarities to their previous victory are startling. In a matter of seconds, they had a two-goal lead ripped from them, but their star player came through. Make no mistake: Messi, his teammates, Argentina, and the world as a whole have viewed this tournament through the prism of Maradona. Messi’s magnificence deserves to be recognized through its own prism.
Which of these tournaments was the greater individual achievement will unavoidably depend on the viewer, just like the argument over those two in their entirety. However, one could have claimed that comparing Messi to 1986 was unfair. With all due respect to Emiliano Martinez, Julian Alvarez, Angel Di Maria, and Alexis MacAllister for their tremendous performances, he shouldn’t have had to win the World Cup by himself, but he did. Before Messi, no player had ever scored in a round of 16, quarterfinal, semifinal, or championship game.
Early on at Lusail, Messi appeared to be setting records at a rapid pace. the most World Cup appearances by a player in history. The majority of minutes soon after. Those achievements served as a reminder of what, in this column’s opinion, makes him the greatest of all time. No one else has been this amazing for this long, and for so much of the past 15 years, the finest player in the world. He did not rise steadily to the top or burn brilliantly before dying. He has served as the North Star by which all others are measured for virtually the entirety of his career.
Messi was just as influential at age 35 and 177 days as he had been when he was a teenager playing for Barcelona. He has undoubtedly changed since then, so why expend energy dribbling around a player when you can easily split a defense with a single pass? He is still the most trustworthy supplier of goals and opportunities on the earth, with perhaps one conceivable exception.
It was fitting that France laid out the red carpet right away for his final dance. They pressed for the first time during the competition. It went about as well as you might anticipate a new defensive strategy to go when it is being executed by at least one wide attacker who believes defending is optional and a 35-year-old striker who was too slow a decade ago. Importantly, Didier Deschamps’ altered game plan had no effect on Messi’s ability to get possession of the ball when he dropped deep, turned, and played the game-winning pass. He set up Di Maria to score the opening goal by winning the penalty, and his interaction with MacAllister and Alvarez helped free his outstanding running mate for the second.
Perhaps Messi was aware that France could yet do better and that he would be required again. He did save energy, though, and it almost paid off when he repeatedly set up Lautaro Martinez before he scrambled in Argentina’s third. Given how awkward that was, perhaps it was only fitting that it didn’t end the game.
In crucial situations, Messi lacked nerve. The knowledge that this was his final opportunity to win the highest reward seemed to be hidden in the back of his mind. When he rolled the ball past Hugo Lloris in the shootout, the Tottenham goalkeeper’s scrambling to the other side only served to highlight how well the finish was executed. His final major critique was that he froze on the international stage. He had obviously provided an answer to those queries a long time ago.
For him, none are still available. Nothing that happens after will alter the fact that he is the best. Football? You finished it, mate.
Regardless of how you look at it, his argument is strong. He became the first player to win two Golden Balls for the tournament’s best player after scoring two goals in the championship game, passing Pele on the list of tournament’s top scorers. He now holds every significant honor that was previously open to him, with the exception of the Europa Leagues (Leo, there is still room for you at the Emirates Stadium if you so desire). Though there is still a long way to go, if he genuinely wants to stick around, he has the opportunity to accomplish 1,000 professional ambitions. The relentless pursuit of personal productivity has never been a factor in Messi’s excellence, though. He didn’t become popular due of his impressive Transfermarkt statistics.
The moments that don’t always jump off the screen—the flicks, no-look passes, and awareness of space—are what supporters remember most about their first live Messi game. Those who attended the final undoubtedly saw them by the dozen.
When put in that perspective, comparing Messi to other football players appears absurd. He should be likened to Steven Spielberg, Michelangelo, or The Beatles. Like few others, he has made the masses happy. How fitting that he gets to say goodbye to his duties representing Argentina with the happiest of times for himself.
There is now Argentina 2022 World Cup apparel available.
The World Cup championship is Argentina’s third and first since 1986. Just in time for the holidays, you can now purchase Argentina World Cup 2022 championship clothing.