Lionel Messi provides a moment of inspiration to revive Argentina’s World Cup hopes
A hit, and a little hope.
If a constant line throughout the career of Lionel Messi has been that he seems to have been dropped onto the game from another plane, here he descended on this game to finally raise it and lift Argentina into the qualifying places.
His superb strike to beat Mexico was not so much out of this world as apart of this game. It was a moment of true individual inspiration totally disconnected from general play, which made it all the more essential.
It also made it one of the moments of this World Cup so far, before Enzo Fernandez followed with one of the goals of the World Cup so far.
Qatar will now forever be associated with another moment of football history, and that of one of rival Saudi Arabia’s tourism ambassadors.
It’s the power of sports washing, distilled into the power of that shot.
Argentina are going to need so much more than that if they are to actually do justice to their former status as potential champions.
The one thing that can be said about Lionel Scalonis is that they are clearly more influenced by form and psychology than almost any other side and this was quite a confidence boost. The way Messi’s clean low hit just flew into the net furthered the feeling that things were finally falling right. You could see the faith course through Argentina again. You could see it in the way Fernandez took the ball for the clinch attack.
They played with a conviction and confidence that was more recognizable from their long unbeaten run.
It helped that Mexico eventually had to come out and play, if that’s even the correct description. The only shame is that such a bad team can actually come through. It is the worst Mexican team at a World Cup in decades.
They had no ambitions, and for a long period brought Argentina down to their level.
The problem for the South American champions was that before Messi’s goal, they weren’t actually that far above it.
The contrast to what followed, and the quality of the goals, was so striking.
Both teams really fought to survive in this World Cup at the start, but it became too literal. The game almost instantly degenerated into an ongoing exchange of glitches, dives and hacked clearances. It was ugly stuff, in every way.
At one point in the first half, Mexico played a ball down the right, usually nowhere near one of their attackers. Lisandro Martinez had time to comfortably take the ball down, but instead just put it out of play.
That summed up the first half.
Why try to actually use your ability when there is some aggression to show?
Argentina tried to play more of the football, but the problem was that they were not very good at it. When you compare their first hour to what Spain were capable of, it was like a different game. It was almost like another era. Argentina looked like they had never played in any kind of tactical attacking style before, with no one really knowing where anyone else was going or what moves they were making.
That’s something that was clearly made worse by the loss of Giovani Lo Celso, and it had the added problem of ensuring that they initially seemed to have no midfield at all here. In relation to Saudi Arabia, they could not claim any control. And this time they weren’t even pressured.
They made mistakes all on their own.
With Mexico tenaciously in, it meant that so much of the game was Messi picking up the ball too far from goal, beating some but then having to give it away, and Guillermo Ochoa’s defense sent Argentina in a cross from the right that was usually headed in i stand.
It was desperate stuff.
Argentina also became more desperate. There was only one man they could turn to.
He stepped up.
If this is to finally end up like Messi’s World Cup, the great number 10 offered exactly the kind of match-winning excellence that characterizes such campaigns. It also had the effect of making everyone around him play better.
It was rarely more necessary.
Argentina still need to beat Poland to be safe, although a draw could be enough depending on Mexico boring Saudi Arabia into submission.
They couldn’t do that to Messi. He had too much life, too much class.
It all means that his country has hope again.