Argentina’s superstar Lionel Messi took charge once more, this time taking a step back in time to set up a clinching third goal as Croatia was pushed aside. Here, a flashback of the FIFA World Cup 2022 reflects.
The truth is rather different. In reality, watching Messi here, it appeared that the reverse was true. This was not only a performance with edge and drive and decisive moments, but everything was fashioned out of thin air in his own distinct physical style, a footballer capable, at 35, of basically conjuring this thing up in his own image.
Football will always be the most literal, outcome-oriented type of sporting mayhem. But, whatever the final strokes of this feverish fantasy of a winter FIFA World Cup, one thing appears unquestionably true. The little, badger-like figure in the baggy blue and white shirt—that man out there changing the game against Croatia’s iron first midfield—is already the best footballer to ever play.
Flashback of FIFA World Cup 2022
Lionel Messi has been for a long time; he also reached a FIFA World Cup final eight years ago, albeit in a slightly different guise. And the third and final goal of this Messi-drunk semi-final victory had a nostalgic feel to it—the football equivalent of a melancholy wedding anniversary dance.
Messi received the ball on the right after 69 minutes. There was something odd about his stride right away—that subterranean, ferrety sense of purpose. He let go of his shoulder. He made a jink. Wait. He’s reenacting Messi. He’s acting like a winger.
Messi drew Josko Gvardiol into the area, holding him off and constantly stroking the ball like a woodpecker hammering at a piece of bark. Then he pirouetted back, like a lure, before whirling back towards goal and inside Gvardiol, who is 20 years old and the tournament’s defence, but is now out here getting rinsed and rinsed again, like a wet tea towel.
Messi then had the room to roll the ball back at a 45-degree angle for Julián Lvarez to finish the game. The run, the pass, and the finish felt like a mnemonic, a memento of Messi, another ghost in this World Cup of ghosts.
But then, each of these late-Messi knockout games has a weird aura of danger surrounding it. Is this the case? Is there something we’re saying goodbye to here? If such is the case, there will be a suitable wake.
Inside, the Lusail Stadium is an aggressively magnificent sight, with sides craning towards its retractable roof and an expanse of blackness above the top surrounded by massive steel bracing like an open mouth howling at the sky.
Argentina’s fans were on one end of it, but any attempt to create an authentic atmosphere was drowned out by the mind-numbingly inane PA. It is hoped that this will be toned down for the final because something is going on with Argentina’s fans.
Lionel Messi scores with an incredible penalty shot past Dominik Livakovic. There was a type of spontaneous San Gennaro procession down through concourses, the blue and white shirts singing, stamping, waving their litany of relics, the severed cardboard Maradona head, the flags, the miraculous vestments, and trinkets. Argentinian football is always filled with devotion.
This tournament has felt like a religious festival, a Messi revivalist parade. Argentina needed his spark here since Croatia dominated the ball early on, thanks to stronger midfield genes. Luka Modric was reportedly described as looking like a tiny boy dressed up as a witch. This is no longer true.
He now resembles a teen dressed as a witch. And he was terrific here for 20 minutes until another type of fate intervened.
The first goal appeared out of nowhere. Enzo Fernández made a direct pass into the space behind Croatia’s defence. Varez was running away, but he was hauled down after nicking the ball past Dominik Livakovic.
Messi took the ball with care, looked at his feet, and then created an unavailing penalty, zinging into the roof of the net. This was Messi’s fifth goal of the FIFA World Cup and, strangely, his fourth at the self-proclaimed “Iconic” venue. He will apparently come if you create it.
Then, to make it 2-0, Lvarez, who had been superb throughout the game, scored a stunningly direct Diego. Is there a more bizarre World Cup wondergoal? After closing time, this was Maradona ’86, recreated with wheelie bins and a tennis ball.
Messi completed the pass deep inside his own half. lvarez had open grass ahead of him, staffed by a scared rolling retreat from there. He continued to run.
And he continued to run. Essentially, he sprinted in a straight line with the ball for 60 meters, crash-tackled the last two defenders, and had the finesse to execute a dainty little finish, almost as an afterthought, like touching in at the end of a race.
By the end of FIFA World Cup, Messi had scored one, made one, touched the ball 63 times, dribbled more than anybody else on the pitch, and acted as a fatherlike force guiding destiny to perfection.
So, what happens now? Is Messi poised to adorn this FIFA World Cup of Death with its ideal ending? Is it really that important?
His talent resides in these moments—the mooching figure out there under the lights, smaller, older, and more ordinary than the super-athletes around him—the normcore Mozart mooching about still accomplishing remarkable feats.